The 2014 incident at the stash house in Texas resulted in the arrest of the perpetrators and a subsequent trial, providing an unusually vivid look at the brutal tactics of smuggling operations. Though kidnapping and extortion happen with some frequency, such trials with cooperating witnesses are relatively rare, federal law enforcement officials say. Fearing deportation, undocumented relatives of kidnapped migrants seldom call the authorities.

That case began in the thick brush country eight miles from the Rio Grande, in Carrizo Springs, a popular transit point for people trying to elude detection. “You could hide a million elephants here, this brush is so thick,” said Jerry Martinez, a captain in the Dimmit County Sheriff’s Office.

Mr. Ferrera, 54, the torture victim, first migrated to the United States in 1993, heading to construction sites in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he made more than 10 times what he earned back in Honduras. He returned home a few years later.

“In those days, you didn’t need a coyote,” he said in an interview from his home in Maryland. “I came and went a couple times.”

When he set out in early 2014, Mr. Ferrera knew that he would have to hire a smuggler to breach the border. In Piedras Negras, Mexico, a man promised to guide him all the way to Houston. Mr. Ferrera’s stepson, Mario Pena, said he wired $1,500 as payment.

After reaching Texas, Mr. Ferrera and several other migrants were delivered to the trailer in Carrizo Springs.

Before long, Mr. Ferrera’s stepson received a call demanding an additional $3,500. He said he did not have any more money.

The calls became frequent and menacing, Mr. Pena recalled in an interview; the smugglers let him hear the sound of his stepfather’s shrieks and groans as a hammer came down on his fingers.

Mr. Pena managed to wire $2,000 via Western Union, he said, but when the captors realized they could not collect the cash because it was a Sunday, they intensified their assaults.

Mr. Pena called 911.

Law enforcement agents found Mr. Ferrera in the trailer “severely, severely physically harmed, with lots of blood all over him, laying on a sofa” in the living room, according to testimony by one of the agents, Jonathan Bonds.

Another migrant, stripped down to his underwear, was squirming in pain, his bludgeoned hand held aloft, in the front bedroom. In the rear bedroom, agents encountered a nude woman, another migrant, who had just been raped by a smuggler who emerged naked from the bathroom.

The house’s owner, Eduardo Rocha Sr., who went by Lalo and was identified as the leader of the smuggling ring, was arrested along with several others, including his son, Eduardo Rocha Jr. The younger Mr. Rocha testified that their cell was affiliated with the Los Zetas cartel and that over two years it had funneled hundreds of migrants into the United States and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The elder Mr. Rocha was sentenced to life in prison. His son and the man who had carried out most of the physical abuse received 15- and 20-year sentences.

Mr. Ferrera testified at their trial. As a victim of a crime who had assisted law enforcement, he was allowed to remain in the United States. But his new life had come with a cost, which he displayed when he held up his right arm for the jury, the fingers now lifeless. “This is how my hand ended up,” he said.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.


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