Edinburg couple charged with holding migrants hostage

An Edinburg couple are accused of kidnapping a trio of undocumented migrants, holding them hostage, and forcing them sell drugs and work without pay over the course of two weeks last summer.

The charges against Eduardo Javier Gomez, 31, and his common law wife, Margarita Alvarez, 40, were revealed Wednesday after a grand jury returned a seven count superseding indictment against the couple on Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors allege the couple held the undocumented migrants — Luz Marisela Fernandez Juarez, Roger Zamora Juarez and Juan Carlos Antonio Zamora — against their will for approximately two weeks between late June and early July 2021.

The couple held the trio — who are cousins — hostage at a home on Saturn Street in rural north Edinburg in order to pay off debts they had accrued while being smuggled into the country from Mexico, according to court records.

Luz Fernandez was forced to work cleaning the couple’s home and babysitting Alvarez’s three children. Meanwhile, Fernandez’s two cousins, Zamora and Antonio, were forced to work selling fireworks at a roadside stand.

Zamora was also forced to sell drugs outside of Los Amigos bar located off Brushline Road north of Edinburg.

“While in Gomez’ (sic) house, Fernandez saw Gomez prepare a white powdery substance she believed was cocaine, by placing them into little, small bags,” reads a July 2021 criminal complaint.

The trio were kept under constant supervision, mostly by Gomez, whom they saw regularly carry a firearm, a “tazer” (sic) and handcuffs.

Gomez also took away the cousins’ cell phones in order to limit their communications with others. Instead, Gomez allowed the trio to make brief phone calls to a relative in New York — a woman referred to in court documents as “Maria” and her husband “Victor.”

Gomez allowed the 2-3 minute long phone calls in an attempt to extort Maria and Victor for money to release their three relatives.

The migrants later told investigators that they had paid smugglers $4,500 each to be brought into the United States. Once here, however, the smugglers demanded an additional $12,000 to transport them to Houston.

After their arrival in the U.S., the cousins were passed from smuggler to smuggler until they found themselves in Gomez’s custody.

In the brief phone calls he allowed them, Gomez forced the three migrants to tell Maria and Victor that they were doing well while continuing to press for payment.

However, the cousins were ultimately able to relate the true nature of their detainment thanks to their use of an Indigenous Mexican language.

“According to Maria, Fernandez and Juarez speak an indigenous (sic) dialect in addition to Spanish. Utilizing their indigenous language Juarez and Fernandez were able to communicate more openly with Maria and Victor,” reads the criminal complaint.

On July 6, 2021, Maria reported the situation to the New York City Police Department which, in turn, reported the claims to Texas law enforcement.

Just two days later, agents with Homeland Security Investigations began conducting surveillance on Gomez and Alvarez’s Edinburg home.

They followed Alvarez as she drove her children and Fernandez to a home in Mission.

HSI agents took the group in for questioning a few hours later, after local law enforcement conducted a traffic stop when they left the Mission home.

Gomez was taken into custody later that night when he showed up at the Mission Police Department in search of his family.

The following morning, July 9, 2021, HSI agents were able to recover Juarez and Antonio, whom they discovered while searching an Edinburg house belonging to Gomez’s sister.

A grand jury initially handed up charges against Gomez and Alvarez last July. However, new charges were revealed when a superseding indictment was handed up Tuesday.

Gomez now faces five counts of obtaining and benefiting from forced labor and one count of hostage taking, while Alvarez faces two counts of obtaining and benefiting from forced labor.

They each face up to life in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the forced labor charges, while Gomez faces up to an additional 20 years in prison for the charge of hostage taking.