McALLEN – The operator of an Edinburg stash house who darkly told immigrants “welcome to hell” will soon be getting a welcome to a prison cell.
A district judge Wednesday sentenced Vicente Ortiz Soto, 24, to eight-and-a-half years in federal prison, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release. His co-conspirator, Marcial Salas Gardunio, 24, was sentenced in October to eight years. Both are Mexican nationals.
Authorities arrested the men May 2 after they got a 9-1-1 call from a man saying he was being held against his will, the release said. They uncovered three buildings stuffed with 115 illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America who had gone days without food or water.
At least one of the buildings was padlocked so the people couldn’t escape. The immigrants reported being threatened with beatings or death if they did not keep quiet. Several said Salas had told them “welcome to hell” as they arrived at the house where he locked them.
Seven had to be hospitalized for dehydration, according to Monitor archives.
Salas said Ortiz had paid him $500 per week to track the immigrants via ledgers and to feed and transport them, court records said.
Both men pleaded guilty May 23 to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. They have been in custody since their arrests.
The department said punishment for the men took into account the risk to the immigrants, use of a deadly weapon, threatening death or bodily injury and actually causing bodily injury.
Elizabeth Findell covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, the Mid-Valley and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4428.
Follow Elizabeth Findell on Twitter: @efindell