By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Twenty people were indicted in connection with an immigrant smuggling ring led by the Zetas drug cartel that moved several hundred people a month from Mexico to Texas, federal officials said on Tuesday.
Sixteen of the 20 suspects were arrested on Monday and Tuesday in Texas, officials said.
Jerry Robinette of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Antonio said the gang would steal vehicles from Texas and use them to sneak immigrants to safe houses stretching from the Rio Grande to Austin. Many of the immigrants were eventually transported across the United States, he said.
"This is an organization that had very little regard for their cargo," Robinette said. "There was nothing that would stop this organization from achieving its goal and its goal was making money."
The operation charged $2,500 for each person smuggled into the United States and frequently would extort immigrants for more, threatening to kill their families in Mexico, Robinette said.
Among those indicted was Fernando Martinez Magana, 40, a Mexican fugitive known as "Zeta 16," who investigators said is a leader of the drug gang. The U.S. Attorney's office said Magana remains at large in Mexico.
"We are doing everything to work with our counterparts in Mexico to bring him to justice," Robinette said.
(Editing By Corrie MacLaggan and Bill Trott)