Human trafficking suspect released on bond

ROSWELL, N.M. – A Chaves County Judge on Thursday denied a motion by the district attorney to hold a man accused of human trafficking without bond pending trial.

Judge Thomas Lilley of New Mexico’s Fifth Judicial District Court rejected the motion to hold 53-year-old Jose Pina of Las Cruces in pretrial detention. Instead, he set Pina’s bond at $25,000.

In accordance with his conditions of release, Pina will not be allowed to leave Doña Ana County without prior permission of the court and will subject to a curfew.

A representative with the Chaves County Detention Center Monday morning, where Pina was held, said that despite bond being set he is still in the facility.

Lilley in announcing his decision not to grant the motion criticized the case put forth by the district attorney’s office in arguing for the motion.

Pina is charged with seven counts of human trafficking after he was pulled over Feb. 12 while driving a van north on U.S. 285 into Roswell.

When deputies approached the van, they reportedly saw seven people inside the van including six who were in the back and lying on the floor, where the back seats the van had been removed. The seventh passenger, a woman, was in the front passenger seat.

Court records stated that deputies determined the seven passengers did not seem aware of their surroundings and did not speak English.

Deputies later determined the seven passengers riding with Pina were from Mexico and in the country illegally.

It was discovered through interviews with the passengers that each day they were shuttled from an unknown residence where they were kept in a single room, to different farms, ranches and other work sites for little if any wages.

Along with the human trafficking counts, Pina was also charged with speeding, driving while license revoked; driving with an open container of alcohol and controlled substance possession prohibited.

The possession charge came after deputies allegedly found a baggie containing a white powdery substance in Pina’s pocket that tested positive for the presence of cocaine.

At Thursday’s hearing, the prosecution argued that some past failures by Pina to make appearances in court on lesser charges in the past and violations of conditions of release, were grounds to hold him in pretrial detention,

The defense though argued though the state failed to prove no conditions of release would ensure the safety of the public or the community at large.

The defense also argued the prosecution did not put forth enough evidence to show the seven individuals were coerced or held against their will.

It was a criticism echoed by Lilley when he announced his decision Thursday.

“I do think the evidence regarding the human trafficking, I think is problematic, regarding that element of that particular offense,” Lilley said.

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for tomorrow.