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ICE busts alleged drop house in Palmdale

July 9, 2009 6:55:54 AM PDT
More than two dozen suspected illegal immigrants were found in a house in Palmdale, and investigators believe smugglers were holding them for ransom.Federal agents received a tip that more than two dozen people were being held against their will at a house on the 36500 block of Clearwood Court.

ICE responded to the scene at about 3 p.m. Wednesday and took 31 people into custody, including a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy. Three alleged smugglers were arrested, accused of running the ring.

The immigrants were allegedly held captive for ransom until the money was paid, then the coyotes would release them.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the immigrants being confined to three rooms inside the home.

All the immigrants are from Central America. ICE officials would not say what the conditions were like inside or how long the immigrants were in the home.

At least three coyotes, one woman and two men, were taken into custody.

Neighbors said they were unaware of what was going on.

"We'd just see guys sitting out front drinking beers," said resident Marco Esquival.

"I never noticed anything weird," he said.

But the frequent deliveries and covered up windows certainly left neighbors suspicious.

"They did it kind of quiet. You only see two or three at once. You didn't see a whole bunch at the same time. I was surprised there were that many in there," said resident James Beshears.

Some neighbors said the home had been raided before as a drop house, and they suspected something was going on again.

"I'd see a lot of vans coming and going," said resident Mike Collette.

"They'd push those vans into the driveway, and so obviously, they'd probably unload so you couldn't really see what's going on," he said.

Collette said they would keep to themselves, hidden behind the covered windows in hopes of keeping their illegal human import secret.

All of the illegal immigrants are in federal custody to be sent back home. The three suspects will likely face federal charges of human smuggling.

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