Thirty-six-year-old Manuel “Shark” Suniga and 27-year-old Jami Villarreal both face the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison if convicted of any of the three counts cited in their indictments.
Suniga’s indictment included three counts of engaging in organized criminal activity. Each of those charges was enhanced to a punishment range of 15-99 years or life in prison.
A special agent with the Texas Department of Public Safety and Detective Lt. Rene Guerrero of the Beeville Police Department accused Suniga and Villarreal of being members of the Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos when they were arrested here on June 1.
Villarreal, who went by the name of Jami Lane when she was arrested at the Town Plaza Apartments, was also indicted on three counts of engaging in organized criminal activity.
The charges against both were enhanced because the defendants had previous felony convictions.
The indictment alleged that the defendants held the victims in a place where they were not likely to be found and against their will.
District Judge Joel Johnson set bond on each suspect at $25,000.
Police officers discovered the alleged hostages on June 2 after receiving a call concerning a possible burglary in progress. What they found were two women and a girl who had jumped out of a window in a second-story apartment to get away from the people who were holding them.
One of the women had hurt her back in the fall from the window.
Police learned from the husband of one of the victims and from the victims themselves that the two alleged alien smugglers were demanding another $3,000 from family members before they would release the victims.
Suniga was arrested at the scene on outstanding traffic warrants and later charged with the more serious offenses.
Villarreal was later found in another apartment in Building 8 of the complex when BPD officers checked other units and warned residents either to leave or stay in their homes while Special Weapons and Tactics Team officers entered the apartment where the victims said they were held.
Villarreal was taken into custody when officers realized the apartment where the victims had been held was leased in her name.
Investigators were told by the victims, a 42-year-old woman, a 36-year-old woman and her child, that they had been picked up by the suspects in Hebbronville and taken to the Town Plaza Apartments. They became concerned when they were told that the suspects were demanding money from the husband of one woman.
The victims said one resident of the apartment complex had brought them food and another person living there had watched them when the suspects were out of the unit.
Police Chief Joe Treviño and Assistant Police Chief Kenneth Jefferson expressed dismay that apparently several residents in that building had known that illegal immigrants were being smuggled through the complex and no one had bothered to contact police.
Sgt. Eddie Garcia noted during the investigation that the women showed signs that they had not been allowed to take care of basic hygiene needs while they were allegedly kept in the apartment.