Deputies bust human traffickers in border town, rescue 5-year-old

(Center Square)

A multi-agency Operation Lone Star Task Force proactively conducted a human trafficking operation in the small border community of Keene County this week saving the lives of several people, including a 5-year-old girl hidden in the trunk of a car.

In response to an SOS issued by Keene County Sheriff Brad Coy, Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd helped organize a multi-agency task force. On Monday, officers from more than 20 agencies began identifying and interdicting human trafficking routes and proactively deterring criminal activity.

On Wednesday, The Center Square participated in a ride with a task force obstruction unit.

In one pursuit, officers arrested a driver and passenger with criminal records who had previously been arrested by DPS months earlier and released before returning to attempt another smuggling operation, authorities said. They were caught by Keene County Chief Deputy Armando Garcia, who pulled the driver over for probable cause and discovered five people lying flat on top of each other in the back seat of the car, each with a 4-year-old underneath. When other officers opened the trunk, they said they discovered a 5-year-old girl hiding inside.

He was initially unresponsive but Garcia and his two deputies revived him and saved his life. The alleged traffickers were trying to reach Houston. If the child had stayed all the way in the trunk, he likely would have died, law enforcement officials told The Center Square. The driver and passenger have been arrested. They later confessed and officers discovered they had photos of stacks of cash they had stored on their phones to show how much they profited from smuggling people across the border to other major Texas cities, law enforcement officials told Center Square. They found Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, the Bronx, New York and New Jersey to be the main smuggling destinations.

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Federal prosecutions have been received against the driver and passenger and the smuggled illegal aliens have been turned over to the Border Patrol, authorities said.

In a pre-dawn pursuit, officers chased another alleged smuggler who lost control of his truck and crashed into a fence on Highway 334, starting a fire. Officers arrived at the scene and pulled three illegal aliens from the vehicle before it caught fire. While deputies rescued the foreign nationals, the driver and a foreign national fled into the brush.

Earlier in the week, on the first day of a multi-day operation, officers engaged in a pursuit that forced the driver and occupants to exit the vehicle and run into the brush, authorities said. Officers chased and apprehended them on foot. In another pursuit the same day, an alleged smuggler led officers through downtown Brackettville, where the sheriff had placed large rocks outside a school to prevent vehicles from crashing into it. The driver lost control and the car overturned. The driver and all occupants attempted to evade capture but were apprehended by law enforcement officers and the driver was arrested. Those being trafficked are turned over to the Border Patrol.

On Tuesday, officers arrested two more traffickers, authorities said. A common technique used for human trafficking is to hide them in the bed of a pickup truck and hide them under the truck bed cover. In one incident, officers pulled over the driver of a Dodge pickup truck and later discovered that one of the passengers was a “brush guide.”

A brush guide is someone responsible for guiding a group of foreign nationals who have entered North America illegally from the border to a major highway and a final pickup point, authorities told The Center Square. They use GPS on their phones to travel several miles on foot, cross private property and follow pipelines or railroads to avoid law enforcement. When they reach a pre-planned designated location, a driver picks up the group and takes them to their next destination.

In this case, the people being trafficked were hiding in the bed of the truck, authorities said. The arresting officer opened the truck’s tailgate to find five people trapped under the truck. The driver and passenger were detained and arrested and those being trafficked were turned over to Border Patrol.

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On a ride with an officer Wednesday, Center Square observed a potential scout being pulled over from Austin. Cartel operatives are paid by cartel operatives to identify where law enforcement officials are and report their locations to smugglers so they can avoid them when they bring more people north, the officer explained.

In another instance, a teenager and a young man in two separate cars from Houston were driving through downtown Brackettville. When the teenager was pulled over, after a search, the officer discovered he had Xeroxed copies of photo identifications of Honduran nationals — presumably people waiting to be picked up to be smuggled north, the officer said.

By Wednesday night, deputies had nabbed an alleged smuggler in another manhunt who was believed to be on the run from the previous bailout, all single Mexican citizens in the United States illegally, authorities said.

“If it wasn’t for Governor Greg Abbott, Operation Lone Star, caffeine and patriotism, we wouldn’t have gotten it done,” Coe said.

Syndicated with permission from Center Square.