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May 24, 2012

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131 illegal immigrants found during raid at Texas 'stash house'
May 24th 2012, 11:34

By staff and wire

Federal agents have arrested four people accused of smuggling 131 illegal immigrants found at a "stash house" in south Texas, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said Wednesday. 

The immigrants were also detained Tuesday after a raid at a house near Alton, Texas, about eight miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said.

The people at the house were from Mexico and Central America, and did not require medical attention, she said. 

The Monitor newspaper, which covers the Rio Grande Valley, said Salvador Hernandez, 52, had just left his house with his elderly parents when the normally quiet neighborhood was suddenly surrounded by ICE agents.

“I have been living here for 28 years and have never seen anything like that happen,” he told the paper.

Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley, which straddles the southern tip of Texas along the Gulf Coast, have seen the number of so-called "stash houses" used to house illegal immigrants roughly double since October 2011, according to agency figures. 

'Welcome to Hell'
In one of the more brutal recent cases, two men pleaded guilty on Wednesday to harboring 115 immigrants -- some without food or water for days -- in a cluster of stash houses in Edinburg, Texas. 

Vicente Ortiz Soto and Marcial Salas Gardunio, both 23-year-old Mexican citizens, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens on Wednesday in U.S. District Court, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, who represents the Southern District of Texas. 

Several of the immigrants required medical attention after authorities found dozens of them locked inside a crowded, hot, ramshackle house, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case. 

One immigrant told ICE agents that Salas would greet new arrivals with "Welcome to Hell" when they arrived at the residence and threatened to beat or kill them if they did not remain quiet, court papers state.

Ortiz admitted to driving immigrants to the stash houses from the border and selling them snacks. 

Each man faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at a sentencing hearing set for July. 

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thumbnail NYPD detains New Jersey man in Etan Patz case
May 24th 2012, 11:17

A suspect is in custody after making statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who vanished 33 years ago from his Manhattan neighborhood. WNBC-TV's Jonathan Dienst reports.

By Jonathan Dienst and Shimon Prokupecz,

The NYPD is questioning a New Jersey man in connection with the case of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy who vanished more than 30 years ago as he walked to the school bus from his SoHo home, reported Thursday.

Police picked the man up sometime Wednesday evening and brought him to New York City for questioning, sources said.

The man was previously known to investigators and is not anyone new in the case, law enforcement sources said. He worked and lived in Patz's neighborhood when the boy disappeared.

For more on this case, visit

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement that the man "has made statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz 33 years ago."

An intensive search for Patz was renewed several weeks ago when police dug up the basement of a handyman's workshop near Patz's SoHo home. A new layer of concrete had been laid over the foundation of the basement shortly after Patz disappeared.

That search yielded no new evidence of value, police said.

NYPD via AP, file

This undated image provided Friday, May 28, 2010 by Stanley K. Patz shows a flyer distributed by the New York Police Department of Patz's son Etan, who vanished in New York on May 25, 1979.

The man in custody Thursday so far has not provided details that would lead them to Patz's body, sources said.

Police end search for Etan Patz remains
Investigators collect hair, paper in search for Patz

Several sources have indicated some skepticism exists about the man's story, but police are being thorough in their investigation of any possible leads.

One other man has remained a longtime possible suspect: Jose Ramos, a drifter and onetime boyfriend of Patz's babysitter. In the early 1980s, he was arrested on theft charges, and had photos of other young, blond boys in his backpack. But there was no hard evidence linking Ramos to the crime. He is in prison in Pennsylvania on a separate case.

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