Federal authorities arrested a woman Wednesday who they accuse of forcing three people to work to pay off smuggling fees.
Margarita Alvarez was charged in a July 27 indictment with one count of forced labor.
Her husband, Eduardo Javier Gomez, who has been in custody since July 9, is charged in the same indictment with three counts of forced labor.
Alvarez made her initial appearance in federal court Thursday morning.
The couple came onto the radar of Homeland Security Investigations agents after the New York City Police Department reported allegations that Gomez and Alvarez were forcing three family members in the country illegally to work off those smuggling fees by babysitting, cleaning, working at a fireworks stand and selling drugs outside of an Edinburg bar.
One of their relatives who lives in New York City made the report after speaking to one of her family members in an indigenous dialect and learned of the alleged forced labor.
Gomez is accused of only allowing the people two to three minutes to speak with family and had instructed them to say everything was fine, according to the criminal complaint.
HSI first came into contact with Alvarez after following an SUV that left the Edinburg residence where the people were allegedly being held to Mission.
The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office pulled the vehicle over after it left Mission for speeding and failing to signal 100 feet prior to turning and found Alvarez, another woman and three children.
The other woman told authorities she was being held against her will and forced to work, according to the complaint.
HSI gained consent to search the Edinburg residence where federal agents found the woman’s other two family members, federal authorities said.
Authorities arrested Gomez at about 1:45 a.m. July 9 after he went to the Mission Police Department looking for his family.
Alvarez will remain temporarily held without bond pending her arraignment and a detention proceeding scheduled for early next week, records show.
As for Gomez, he is being held without bond pending the resolution of his case.