Saturday, November 5, 2011

Anonymous tip leads to alleged drop house; 37 found inside

by Catherine Holland

Video report by Stacey Delikat

PHOENIX -- An anonymous tip led Phoenix police to find dozens of people in a suspected drop house Saturday afternoon.

Neighbors said a couple moved into the home in the area of 21st Avenue and Cactus Road just a few months ago. They said until today, everything seemed relatively normal.

When police arrived on the scene late Saturday afternoon, they found 37 people -- men, women and children, including one as young as 3 or 4 years old -- inside the home. All are believed to be in the U.S. illegally.

"Drop houses are usually rented properties where coyotes, or human smugglers, stash immigrants [often holding them against their will] while awaiting payments," explains the Arizona Department of Public Safety's website. "The violent nature of the criminal operations that utilize drop houses, and their total disregard for human life, make them a threat not only to the immigrants they exploit, but also to the communities in which they operate."

Neighbors had no idea what was going on in that house. Those who were acquainted with the couple who lived there say they were nice.

"They associated with the neighbors," said Thomas Wagoner, who lives across the street from the alleged drop house. "It was a man and woman, and they had some roommates. That's basically what we saw that whole time.

"There would be cars pulling up, and trucks, every once in a while during the day," Wagoner continued. "People visiting is what I associated it with."

It's not clear how many coyotes might be involved with the alleged drop house.

The people who were removed from the Phoenix home Saturday all seemed to be in good condition.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was called into investigate and take custody of the suspects.

The couple that lived in the home has not been identified.

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