ATLANTA - A man from Mexico, who was the leader of a local sex trafficking ring that tricked and forced young girls into prostitution, was sentenced Thursday to serve 40 years in federal prison for sex trafficking minors, and various other related criminal convictions.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
"Few crimes are more heinous than sex trafficking human beings," said Brock Nicholson, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Atlanta. "ICE HSI will vigorously pursue any members of criminal organizations engaged in this dangerous, dehumanizing and illegal business."
Amador Cortes-Meza, 36, of Tlaxcala, Mexico, was sentenced to 40 years in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay restitution to a number of victims identified by their initials: $80,000 to "LMJ," $6,000 to "MVL," $6,000 to "AAS," $56,000 to "NHP," $4,000 to "LGI," $76,000 to "NMS," $8,000 to "MPM," and $56,000 to "RHP."
Cortes-Meza was convicted of these charges on Nov. 21, 2010, after a two-week trial. In addition to sex trafficking minors, Cortes-Meza was also convicted of the following offenses: sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, transporting minors for the purpose of prostitution, smuggling aliens into the United States for purposes of prostitution, and conspiracy to do the same.
"No one wants to believe that there are people who will enslave other human beings and require them to commit innumerable commercial sex acts," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, for the Northern District of Georgia. "Yet this intolerable crime is happening right in our own neighborhoods in metropolitan Atlanta. This defendant tricked young girls and juveniles into leaving their families in Mexico, beat them, and forced them into more than 20 acts of prostitution a night here in Atlanta. These survivors courageously testified against the defendant and played a significant role in bringing him to justice. This defendant earned every day of his 40 year sentence."
Cortes-Meza was the ring leader of an organization that brought 10 victims to the United States, including four juveniles, and forced them into prostitution. Nine of the victims testified at trial that the defendant, his brother Juan Cortes-Meza, 34, and a nephew Francisco Cortes-Meza, 27, tricked young women in Mexico into coming to the United States.
Amador Cortes-Meza and the co-defendants pretended to be romantically interested in the young girls, many of whom were from rural areas, some of whom did not have much education, and most of whom had not dated before. The defendant and his co-conspirators promised the victims they would have a life together and then tell them they needed to travel to the United States to make money working in restaurants or cleaning homes.
Victims testified at trial that Amador Cortes-Meza was physically abusive both in Mexico and the United States if they disagreed with his plans or told him no. One victim recounted that while still in Mexico she asked to go home, to go back to her family. Amador Cortes-Meza responded by repeatedly dunking her head in a wooden bucket of water until the young woman thought she would drown. He then picked up the bucket and threw it at her head, shattering the bucket.
"The court's sentence clearly reflects the seriousness of these awful sex trafficking crimes," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "The victims suffered sexual abuse, physical assaults, threats of harm to their families, and daily degradation all because of this defendant's greed and callous disregard for them as individuals. We are committed to prosecuting sex traffickers and vindicating victims' rights, as they were vindicated today."
The evidence presented in court showed that Amador Cortes-Meza also obtained false identification for the victims and made arrangements with "coyotes" to smuggle the victims and himself into the United States via Arizona. He had been caught by authorities illegally crossing the border into Arizona with two of his victims, including a juvenile that he had obtained a fake birth certificate. After being deported, he immediately re-entered the United States with both victims.
Amador Cortes-Meza prostituted girls that he knew were under the age of 18. One of two juveniles he smuggled into the country was 14 years old. He told the 14-year-old that he loved her, would marry her, and asked her to work in prostitution to earn money for their life back in Mexico. In fact, he already had a wife and children in Mexico. He ultimately forced the juvenile victim to engage in prostitution for about three years. She testified about one incident during which he pulled a knife on her and she thought that he was going to kill her.
Victims identified homes in the Norcross, Ga., area where they were housed by Amador Cortes-Meza and his co-conspirators. The co-conspirators took turns monitoring the victims. Various drivers retrieved the victims from the homes and transported them to residences of clients where the victims were required to engage in commercial sex. The victims testified that when they refused to engage in prostitution, Amador Cortes-Meza or his co-conspirators beat them and threatened them and their families with physical harm. On the witness stand, many of the victims cried as they recounted the first time they were forced into prostitution, stating they had to have sex with upwards of 20 men that first night. As time went on, Amador Cortes-Meza required many of the victims to service about 40 customers per night, at the rate of $25 per customer. The co-conspirators and the drivers split the proceeds of the prostitution.
The victims testified about the physical abuse used by the defendant to control them. Many indicated that Amador Cortes-Meza hit them with his fists, belts, and sticks and dragged them around by their hair. One victim testified that she tried to escape one night and subsequently was beaten by the defendant with a broomstick and a rod from the closet. The witness' hand was permanently disfigured when she attempted to shield herself from his blows. This same witness testified that after her first two days of forced prostitution she felt, in her words, "destroyed." When she told Amador Cortes-Meza that she was in pain from the commercial sex acts he forced her to perform, he replied that it "didn't mean a thing" to him, and that she had to go to work the next day as well.
Another victim testified that one time she refused to engage in prostitution and that Amador Cortes-Meza responded by throwing an iron at her which sliced open her head. She stated the cut bled for a week and that she was denied medical care. This victim testified that she still experiences complications and headaches due to the head injury. Other victims testified they saw the savage beatings and were fearful of disobeying Amador Cortes-Meza. Witnesses identified two other women who escaped prior to ICE rescuing the remaining 10 victims.
Other co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty to multiple human trafficking crimes as part of the scheme. Amador Cortes-Meza's nephew Francisco Cortes-Meza was sentenced to 20 years in prison on April 6, 2010. His brother Juan Cortes-Meza was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison. Another of his nephews, Raul Cortes-Meza, 23, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on April 30, 2010.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge and Deputy Chief Karima Maloney of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.
ICE and the Department of Justice encourage members of the public to report suspected human trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security's tip line to report trafficking crimes is 1-866-347-2423.