An Ecuadoran man told investigators he was held in an 800-square-foot Baldwin Park house while his captors demanded $2,500 above the $10,500 he had already paid to be smuggled into the United States.
Another man traveled from New York to pay $12,000 for the release of his 12-year-old son sequestered in the house. Smugglers then kidnapped the man and demanded another $1,000 from his family for his release.
These were among the stories emerging Friday after 35 illegal immigrants were found in the house Thursday; one of them had managed to get a cellphone and call 911.
Baldwin Park officers arrived at the house to find two men running away. Officers detained one of the two and found a third suspected smuggler inside the house.
The suspected smugglers, from Guatemala, were identified as Ismael Carrillo Castaneda, 20, and Edwin Francisco, 18. The other smuggler remained at large.
Ten of the immigrants were from Guatemala, 16 were from El Salvador, four from Honduras and five from Ecuador. Five were women. Four were boys: two aged 17, one 15 and another 12.
It was unclear Friday how long the immigrants had been kept in the house or how long it had been used as a safehouse for illegal immigrants.
Baldwin Park police said in a statement that it appeared some of the immigrants had been at the house as long as a week. The immigrants told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents they were allowed to use the bathroom only during the day, said Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The doors were dead-bolted, the windows were boarded and some were barred, and the adult women were made to cook for them all, Haley said.
The incident marks the first time in more than a year that an immigrant "load house" of that size was discovered in urban Los Angeles, said Tracy Cormier, a customs agent with extensive experience in Southern California smuggling investigations.
"Previously, they'd started a pattern of moving outside of L.A., to Palmdale and Lancaster," Cormier said.
Years ago, a deal struck by an immigrant in his home country would be honored by the smuggler, Cormier said.
Cormier said she has seen cases in which smugglers call the family of an illegal immigrant while they're torturing or raping the relative to try to force the family to pay.