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BCSO: Human smuggling operation busted in Bertram

Julio Tapia-Martinez

Julio Tapia-Martinez, 48, was arrested on charges of kidnapping after Burnet County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a call for help at a Bertram home. He was the sole person arrested in what law enforcement believes is an illegal immigrant smuggling operation. Burnet County Jail photo

A 48-year-old man was arrested on charges of kidnapping in the early hours of April 10 at a Bertram home. Burnet County Sheriff’s Office deputies apprehended Julio Tapia-Martinez after responding to a call for help from a person inside the home who had escaped. Officials believe the suspect is part of a larger human smuggling ring.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken over the investigation and custody of Tapia-Martinez, who is not a U.S. citizen.

“We ran across this thing by accident,” BCSO Capt. Mike Sorenson told DailyTrib.com. “A person in the residence was able to escape and call for help.”

According to Sorenson, the suspected smuggling operation transports and exploits people who illegally immigrated to the United States. Two people were willingly rescued from the home, while many others scattered and fled the scene. Tapia-Martinez was the only one arrested, and the exact number of people involved is unknown.

The two people who were rescued told law enforcement they had been kidnapped from Dallas, where they were working as roofers, then held captive with demands of payment, Sorenson said. The suspected smugglers were exploiting the two people rescued, he continued, knowing that they didn’t have many options due to their illegal status in the country.

ICE officials were unavailable for comment at the time of this article’s publication. The investigation is ongoing.

The two kidnapping charges are third-degree felonies that each carry a potential fine of up to $10,000 and two to 10 years in prison.

dakota@thepicayune.com