‘It’s a scary situation’: Sheriff Salazar says traffic stops lead deputies to massive smuggling bust

At least 35 people are detained, others are still on the run

ATASCOSA, Texas – Traffic stops made by Bexar County deputies in Atascosa led to a massive smuggling bust, with at least 35 people being detained and a few others still on the run, according to Sheriff Javier Salazar.

The incident happened Thursday afternoon in the 11400 block of Briggs Road in Atascosa.

Investigators from the BCSO’s organized crime group were conducting surveillance when they made a couple of traffic stops on vehicles leaving the area.

The driver of one of the vehicles fled and left behind a man and two female teenagers who were all passengers. Salazar said the driver was eventually picked up by a woman, both of whom have active felony warrants.

He said both of their warrants stem from an animal cruelty case involving a tiger named Elsa, which was found in February 2021 and taken to a wildlife sanctuary.

The man, 24-year-old Christopher Abrego, is still at large. BCSO said they arrested 50-year-old Agustina Jean Cabrera.

The teens found in the vehicle, ages 16 and 18, are undocumented immigrants and told deputies they thought they were being taken to Dallas to be reunited with relatives.

“I tend to think that these smugglers had other plans for these young ladies, whether they knew it or not,” Sheriff Salazar said during a news briefing.

Both of the teens are safe and sound, according to Salazar. The man that was left with them in the vehicle was found to have been armed with a knife and had both of the teen’s IDs in his possession.

Investigators searching the property

There are three buildings in the area where the vehicles came from -- two of them are homes and one of them is a workshop.

As seen in images provided from the sheriff’s office, furniture was seen overturned and drapes were torn and hanging loosely from the windows inside one of the homes.

Inside of a home where deputies executed a smuggling bust in South Bexar County. (BCSO)
A room inside of a home where deputies executed a smuggling bust in South Bexar County. (BCSO)

Salazar said between 35 and 39 people, mostly young men and three women, were being held inside. Deputies are executing search warrants for the other two buildings.

No firearms were found at the scene, though deputies did find stolen trucks that were gutted out to house the smuggling victims and a police nightstick.

Smuggling victims told deputies they were malnourished

People who were found inside of the home told the sheriff’s office they hadn’t eaten in six days.

Salazar said the deputies teamed up and bought food and water for everyone out-of-pocket before EMS checked them over.

“Although we’re here to do a job, you don’t wanna just leave your fellow man starving and thirsty,” said Salazar. “... It’s a scary situation no matter how you look at it.”

Some of the men had also complained of foot injuries they sustained during travel. Many were wearing camouflaged clothing to hide from authorities in the air or had carpet glued to the bottom of their shoes to help hide their footsteps from Border Patrol agents.

All of the people found will be taken to a federal office and interviewed so law enforcement can determine who among the group are coyotes and who are victims, according to Salazar.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Border Patrol are aiding in the investigation.

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