SAN ANTONIO - Officials believe a group of nearly a dozen people found near a Far Northeast Side motel on Monday are victims of human trafficking.
According to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a deputy was on patrol near Rittiman Road and Interstate 35 when he saw a large group of people on the side of the road. The deputy said several of the individuals scattered when he approached and some jumped into nearby bushes to hide.
Salazar said the individuals the deputy was able to get to stay at the scene have told stories of "modern-day slavery."
"What it looks like, quite honestly, is that these people have been taken advantage of," Salazar said. "They describe being made to work and then not being paid, so right now we're trying to determine if one of the people among them is the person responsible for this."
Authorities briefly detained the driver of an 18-wheeler, but later released him after he consented to a search of his semitrailer.
According to the Sheriff's Office, some of the people reported not having eaten in two days. Salazar said deputies provided the group food and some water before turning the scene over to Homeland Security Investigations.
"It's heartbreaking," Salazar said. "Some of these people describe that they've been put to work for a couple of weeks and and not paid ... It's a tragedy that these folks come here looking for a better life and, quite frankly, they're taken advantage of and they're victimized.
"They're charged an exorbitant amount of money to get here, and then they work (to pay off) a debt that, quite frankly, they're never going to pay off, and I just think it's a tragedy that these folks are victimized to that extent."
The individuals involved were taken by the Bexar County Sheriff's Office to the HSI field office. HSI is now the lead agency on the investigation, according to the Sheriff's Office.
At least 11 people, who are believed to be from Mexico, were rescued. However, the number of individuals involved could be greater, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office said.
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