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Feds bust east Houston sex-slave ring

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Feds bust east Houston sex-slave ring

10 arrested; victims freed after raid

By SUSAN CARROLL

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Feb. 18, 2011, 5:37AM

The federal indictment, unsealed on Thursday, paints a vicious picture of Maria Rojas, aka "Nancy," an alleged ringleader in an international sex trafficking ring that pimped out girls as young as 14 inside a compound on the city's east side.

It was Rojas, a 46-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, who prosecutors say co-owned La Costeñita Bar and a neighboring compound in the 8000 block of Clinton Drive, where the Mexican pimps — the padrotes — brought the girls, prosecutors charged. And it was Rojas who decided which girls worked the bar, who was friends with the pimps, who once held a gun to the belly of a young, pregnant woman and threatened to kill her and her baby.

On Wednesday night, federal agents raided the compound, comprising several buildings and trailers surrounded by a metal fence. They arrested Rojas, her brother and eight other suspects and rescued nine women, including three minors. U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno said 14 other women are in custody and are being interviewed to determine whether they are victims or witnesses in the case.

"Human trafficking continues to be a scourge in our community, and it happens like this, under our noses, under the guise and facade of legitimate businesses," Moreno said. "It's basically modern-day slavery."

Numerous charges

Rojas and her brother, Jose Luis Rojas, 38, face federal conspiracy charges in connection with the sex trafficking and harboring illegal immigrants. Rojas also faces a charge of re-entry after deportation.

The arrests by Houston's Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance capped a three-year investigation into the ring, which authorities said started operating here in 1999.

The bar had been targeted by federal authorities previously, as early as 2004, records show, after an underage girl escaped from the control of smugglers and told authorities she was forced into prostitution at several bars, including La Costeñita. The alleged smuggler in that case, Gerardo "El Gallo" Salazar, who also was mentioned in Thursday's indictment, is in custody in Mexico awaiting extradition to the U.S. in connection with another case.

After a 2005 raid of the bars on Clinton Drive, Rojas was deported to Mexico, records show, but she found her way back to the U.S. and into the business, prosecutors allege.

The indictment details the evolution of the ring over more than a decade, charging that it started out recruiting girls and women from Mexico with promises of work in restaurants in the U.S., but instead forced them into prostitution to work off smuggling fees. The ring would double the fee charged by a smuggler, forcing women to repay $4,000 for a $2,000 smuggling debt, prosecutors said.

By 2005, the ring had shifted tactics, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez, relying on pimps and charging for the use of the brothel.

"The Rojas organization said it's really hard to keep these women under control, to keep them from escaping, so why don't we just use padrotes, or Mexican pimps, to supply the girls?" Perez said.

The organization used lookouts on the compound to try and spot police, and charged $65 to have sex for 15 minutes with the girls and women there, according to the indictment. The pimps ultimately kept the $50 cut that went to the sex workers, and the organization made $15 from each transaction, for providing the room and condom, according to federal authorities. The defendants earned at least $5,000 a day on the weekend, plus at least $25,000 a week in bar sales, prosecutors said.

'Tip of the iceberg'

Nine of the 10 defendants in the case were in the country illegally and hailed from Mexico and Honduras. While the Rojas siblings face the sex trafficking charge, the remaining defendants are accused of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants for commercial gain, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

All of the defendants are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Houston on Friday for detention hearings.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia called the arrests the "tip of the iceberg," urging other sex trafficking victims to come forward.

"It is an unconscionable act … and we cannot tolerate this," Garcia said. "We will go after the individuals involved in it. We will hunt you down."

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7432487.html


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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Disgusting. There's no surprise that cheap rhetoric would fall in to this case, as I think we can all agree that this despicable depravity is frequented by many more clients than those from the countries where the 'labor' comes from... legal or illegal.

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