San Diego police discovered 57 illegal aliens Saturday being held captive in a downtown house by smugglers who were asking $150 each to grant them their freedom, a police spokesman said.
Police spokesman Bill Robinson said officers were tipped earlier in the afternoon to check the single-story frame house at 512 17th St. after tracing the phone number that one of the illegal aliens left with a friend in Vista whom he had called. The Vista man called police.
"We received a call from the man saying that his friend was being held for $150 ransom," Robinson said. "The man who called his friend in Vista was prepared to call a friend in Chicago to get the money."
Police found 56 men and one woman in the cramped home, Robinson said. He said they had been there two or three days since crossing the border and that their smugglers wanted $150 from each in return for granting them freedom. The smugglers were not in the home when police arrived, Robinson said.
The home was dirty and bars covered the windows, Robinson said, adding that the doors could not be opened from the inside. He said some of the people were hungry because the smugglers were also selling food to the captives.
Robinson said police found credits cards, flight and bus schedules and maps in the house.
The illegal aliens were turned over to the Border Patrol, which is investigating.
Robinson said the illegal aliens did not offer good descriptions of their captors.
"They weren't too anxious to identify them," he said. "They were more anxious to return to Mexico."