HOUSTON — Two leaders of a sex-trafficking organization, who forced Mexican females to work at Houston-area bars and restaurants, were sentenced Monday to federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.
The criminal charges resulted from a three-year investigation by the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) in Houston, which includes the following agencies: the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Harris County Sheriff's Office, Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission, Texas Attorney General's Office, the Department of State, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.
Maria Rojas, aka "Nancy," 47, and Jose Luis Rojas, 39, were each sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes to 16 years for conspiring to commit sex trafficking, and to 10 years for conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The sentences will run concurrently. Maria Rojas, who also pleaded guilty to illegally re-entering the United States after being deported, received an additional 24 months, which will be served concurrently with her other sentences. On Nov. 28, 2011, Maria and Jose Luis Rojas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, as well as conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.
The two were charged with a conspiracy to recruit Mexican women and girls to travel to the United States with the false expectation of legitimate jobs in bars and restaurants. Once the women and girls arrived in the U.S., they were forced into prostitution in one of the defendants' bars. The conspirators further relied on the services of pimps to supply the women for prostitution, and maintain control of the women. Maria Rojas was the owner of La Costenita, formerly Playa Sola, as well as El Club Restaurante, formerly La Cueva Restaurante Bar, both located on Clinton Drive in Houston. Jose Luis Rojas operated La Costenita.
Eight others were also charged in the indictment with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. Javier Guevara Belmontes, 46, also owned, controlled and operated La Costenita and El Club Restaurante. Maday Martinez, 34, and Evelin Carolina Aguera, 37, worked as managers; Claudia Perez Ramirez, Silvano Santos aka "Chivas," Francisco Maradiaga Jimenez aka "Pancho," and Olvan Ramirez Caceres worked at La Costenita as lookouts alerting police presence. The final defendant, Aleyda Juarez, passed out condoms and charged the females $15 for the condom and use of the rooms.
Aguera, Santos, Ramirez, Jimenez, Caceres and Juarez have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to terms ranging from eight to 11 months for their roles in the conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens; all will be deported after they complete their prison sentences. Martinez and Belmontes have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Judge Hughes ordered the forfeiture of two bars, one restaurant and several properties which the court found were used to facilitate these crimes. The proceeds from these forfeitures will be used to aid the victims in this case. A hearing will be held on April 16 to address restitution in the case.
The HTRA was formed by the U.S. Attorney's office in Houston to concentrate and combine resources of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers, while providing necessary services to the victims of the traffickers. The Houston HTRA was one of the first of 42 such funded organizations, and the first of its kind in Texas.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ruben R. Perez and Joe Magliolo, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case; Katherine Haden is handling the asset forfeitures.