Eight people were arrested Tuesday in connection with what federal authorities believe is a sprawling human smuggling operation that may have victimized thousands of migrants.
Erminia Serrano Piedra, also known as “Boss Lady,” allegedly ran the operation along with seven others, federal prosecutors told reporters. The eight were arrested in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas on charges related to transporting a non-citizen for monetary benefit while endangering human life.
The Department of Justice is also seeking $2.3 million in property assets allegedly connected with the operation.
“This organization was motivated by personal greed and Piedra and her co-conspirators prioritized that greed over the safety of those that they illegally smuggled,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite told reporters Tuesday.
Court documents did not list an attorney who could speak on Piedra’s behalf. The suspects are appearing in court this week; Piedra has a detention hearing set for Friday.
Department of Justice officials say the migrant victims, believed to be citizens of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, were brought to so-called “stash houses” where smugglers conduct and conceal their illicit activity. Authorities say that some of the victims were forced into suitcases while others were crammed into the back of tractor trailers, pick-up trucks, and even water tankers as part of their journeys into and across the U.S.
Those who drove the vehicles used to transport migrants were possibly paid as much as $2,500 per person, according to the Department of Justice.
“We have alleged that this particular organization was responsible for the smuggling of at least hundreds if not thousands of potential migrants,” Polite said.
Agents from Homeland Security Investigations, the division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that handles smuggling enforcement, led the probe which resulted in the arrest of Katie Ann Garcia, one of the eight suspects, on Tuesday in Laredo, Texas, where authorities say 12 migrants were found, including two minors.
San Miguel Times