- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) - A South Texas man has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for smuggling people into the country and then holding them against their will until they paid additional money for their release.

Federal authorities said in a statement Friday that 24-year-old Reynaldo Lerma-Pichardo of Brownsville was sentenced earlier in the week following his conviction for human smuggling and hostage-taking.

Authorities say Lerma-Pichardo and three others operated a human smuggling ring out of their homes.

Brownsville police and U.S. Border Patrol agents were acting on a 911 call in November 2015 when they found nine people being held in an apartment. All were immigrants in the country illegally.

The immigrants had paid to be brought into the U.S. but then were ordered to pay more for their release.

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