SAN DIEGO - A previously deported Mexican national, who operated an outdoor brothel in a remote local canyon, could receive life in prison following his conviction on federal human trafficking charges, including two counts of sex trafficking by force.
Adrian Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez, 32, of Tlaxcala, Mexico, was found guilty by a jury last week on charges stemming from a year-long joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the San Diego Sheriff's Office (SDSO). Zitlalpopoca is scheduled to be sentenced April 12 before District Court Judge Rodger T. Benitez.
Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez was arrested in November 2008 during a vehicle stop while transporting two female passengers. The women were later identified as sex trafficking victims who had been forced by Zitlalpopoca to work as prostitutes at an outdoor brothel in Valley Center that catered to illegal aliens in North County.
Several days after Zitlalpopoca was taken into custody, ICE agents arrested two co-defendants, also from Tlaxcala, Mexico, at an apartment in North County. In April 2009, all three men were named in a superseding indictment after the investigation revealed they had operated the family-run, outdoor brothel for at least six months.
Eduardo Aguila-Tecuapacho, 26, and Carlos Txompantzi-Serrano, 36, both pleaded guilty to charges of importation of an alien for immoral purposes in November 2008. They are also expected to be sentenced in April.
All three men are illegal aliens and face deportation after completing their criminal sentences.
"This verdict is gratifying given the deplorable conditions the victims in this case were forced to endure," said Jose Garcia, acting special agent in charge for ICE Office of Investigations in San Diego. "While we can't erase the suffering these women experienced, by aggressively investigating and prosecuting these cases, ICE and its law enforcement partners are sending a powerful warning about the consequences facing those responsible for such schemes."
The verdict came on the eve of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, established to heighten public awareness about human trafficking, including the link to cross-border smuggling activity at the U.S.-Mexico border.
ICE's overall goal is to prevent human trafficking in the United States by prosecuting the traffickers, and rescuing and protecting the victims. In fiscal year 2008, ICE initiated 432 human trafficking investigations. That figure includes 262 investigations involving commercial sexual exploitation and 170 investigations of forced labor. During that same time frame, ICE human trafficking investigations resulted in 189 arrests, 126 indictments and 126 convictions.