Three men kidnapped undocumented immigrants, held them in a home, demanded ransom: Cops


From left: Mason Castillo, Robert Cruz, and Jeremiah Villarreal. (Hayes County Jail)

From left: Mason Castillo, Robert Cruz, and Jeremiah Villarreal. (Hayes County Jail)

Three men were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping 10 undocumented immigrants on their way from Mexico to Austin, Texas, holding them in a home and ordering them to pay thousands of dollars in ransom for their release, authorities said.

Mason Castillo, 20, Robert Cruz, 20, and Jeremiah Villarreal, 19, were arrested on charges including smuggling of persons, engaging in organized criminal activity, aggravated robbery, and aggravated kidnapping for ransom/reward, the San Marcos Police Department said in a news release.

The investigation began in August when a group of immigrants was smuggled from Mexico to Austin and kidnapped in transit, police said.

“The investigation took about four weeks until sufficient probable cause was developed to issue arrest warrants on all three suspects and for the issuance of multiple search warrants,” said San Marcos Police Detective Casey Tennant.

The victims told detectives they were held at a home somewhere in San Marcos, less than an hour south of Austin.

Police said they determined where the victims were held after combing through video footage of a business in San Marcos and mapping out a radius that correlated with the time traveled to reach the home.

Authorities identified the suspects through information the victims gave investigators, surveillance video and digital forensics from a cellphone, police said.

Castillo and Villarreal had a criminal history of smuggling people, officials said without elaborating.

The three suspects were arrested last Thursday when SWAT teams served warrants at their homes.

“Due to the threat to the safety of the potential victims being held against their will and the multiple locations being searched, multiple SWAT teams were needed to execute the search warrants safely,” Tennant said.

Police said they found no victims during the searches but found evidence they say corroborated the “serious charges that the defendants now face.”

The suspects were being held at the Hays County Jail with bail set at $1 million. It was unclear whether they had attorneys.

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