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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
03/12/2013

Oklahoma's first-ever federal human trafficking sentences announced in Tulsa

A human trafficking victim placed this black high-heeled shoe on the   window sill of a Tulsa apartment so HSI special agents could confirm her   location and obtain a search warrant for the apartment.
This is the night stand of a human trafficking victim, which shows a   poker chip immediately following the execution of the first search warrant   during Operation Poker Chip.  The operation name is derived from the poker   chips that were given to the customers who paid a 'caretaker' to have sex with a   sex trafficking victim.
A fortified door to one of the brothels that was broken into by HSI special   agents and task force officers from Tulsa County Sheriff's Office during   Operation Poker Chip.
A fortified door to one of the brothels that was broken into by HSI special agents and task force officers from Tulsa County Sheriff's Office during Operation Poker Chip.

TULSA, Okla. – Oklahoma's first-ever federal human trafficking sentences, including six people sentenced over two days, were announced Tuesday following their guilty pleas to sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and coercion and enticement to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution.

These sentences, which were handed down Monday and Tuesday, were announced by U.S. Attorney Danny C. Williams Sr., Northern District of Oklahoma.

The case, dubbed "Operation Poker Chip," was investigated starting in January 2012, by the following law enforcement agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), and the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office (TCSO).

Following are the sentences that were handed down over two days by U.S. District Judge James H. Payne:

  • Juan Rosales Garza, aka "Fernando," pleaded guilty March 28, 2012, was sentenced Monday to a term of imprisonment for 135 months; to pay restitution of $18,340 and $3,780 to pay jointly and severally with his co-defendants and $100 special monetary assessment.
  • Sermaias Samuel Sanchez Ajin, pleaded guilty March 28, 2012, was sentenced Monday to time served and $3,780 restitution to pay jointly and severally with his co-defendant's and $100 special monetary assessment.
  • Antonio Felix Velasquez-Lopez, aka "Tony," pleaded guilty April 24, 2012, was sentenced Monday to a term of imprisonment for 87 months; $1,530 restitution and $100 special monetary assessment.
  • Israel Velasquez-Ramirez, aka "Marcos," pleaded guilty April 11, 2012sentenced Tuesday to a term of imprisonment for 18 months; $420 restitution and $100 special monetary assessment.
  • Piedad Garcia, pleaded guilty Aug. 7, 2012, was sentenced Tuesday to a term of imprisonment for 24 months; $6,580 restitution; $200,000 money judgment and $100 special monetary assessment.
  • Gloria N. Giammalva, aka "Diana," pleaded guilty Aug. 8, 2012, was sentenced Tuesday to a term of imprisonment for 21 months; $18,340 restitution jointly and $3,780 jointly with other co-defendant's and a $100 special monetary assessment.

A seventh defendant, Ignacio Ijom-Brito, also pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in December to 14 months in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

In addition to the above prison sentences, Juan Rosales-Garza and Piedad Currea-Garcia will forfeit to the United States any property, real or personal, derived from proceeds obtained during the sex trafficking conspiracy.

"This investigation leading to these prison sentences began with an extremely brave and resourceful human trafficking victim who used all the tools available to her to notify and maintain contact with law enforcement about this years-long crime," said David M. Marwell, special agent in charge of HSI Dallas. "However, most human trafficking victims don't have these resources to escape their horrific circumstances. Since human trafficking is especially secretive, we in law enforcement ask the public to keep a watchful eye for signs of human trafficking."

The operation derives its name from poker chips that were given to the customers who paid a "caretaker" to have sex with a sex trafficking victim. The customer then turned in the poker chip to the victim. The sex traffickers or "caretakers" collected the poker chips at the end of the day to keep track of how many clients they had.

The first victim in this case was smuggled into the United States from Mexico more than eight years ago. After arriving in Atlanta, Ga., she was beaten, threatened and forced into prostitution. The victim was trafficked to at least 10 other states over a period of several years. This constant movement is a common tactic of human traffickers to maximize profits and minimize the chances of being caught by law enforcement.

Despite beatings, injuries and threats to her with a gun, the victim eventually escaped her traffickers with her son. For his safety, she sent her son to live with his father's parents in Mexico. While living in Houston, she was recognized by a trafficker and forced back into prostitution. The victim was subjected to harsh verbal and physical abuse, and was injected with drugs.

On Jan. 10, 2012, she was able to contact a law enforcement officer in Atlanta while she was in Houston. HSI special agents in Houston were notified. However, she was moved to Tulsa in January 2012. But she was still able to text her movements to HSI special agents. The victim was pregnant and in poor health due to the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her traffickers.

Although the victim was never told where she was staying or allowed to go outside, she was able determine her latest Tulsa address from a local pizza flyer mailed to the apartment. HSI special agents further confirmed her location by signal when the victim placed a black high-heeled shoe on the window sill of the apartment. HSI task force officers, who are Tulsa County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) deputies, obtained the state search warrant to search the apartment.

On Jan. 19, 2012, HSI special agents and TCSO task force officers executed the search warrant, rescued the victim, and arrested Ignacio Ijom-Brito and Antonio Velasquez-Lopez for sex trafficking. The victim was taken to a hospital and admitted for medical issues. HSI Victim Witness Coordinators assisted, and continue to assist, the victim. Ijom-Brito and Velasquez-Lopez were federally indicted in February 2012.

On Jan. 25, 2012, HSI Tulsa special agents and TCSO task force officers executed search warrants that resulted in the arrest of Israel Velasquez-Ramirez, who was arrested and later charged with sex trafficking.

On Feb. 23, 2012, HSI and FBI special agents located and arrested Sermaias Sanchez-Ajin at an apartment in Tulsa. Sanchez-Ajin had managed to evade federal authorities for nearly a month, having left a former brothel location only hours before HSI special agents executed a search warrant Jan. 26, 2012.

As a result of the search warrants, information was developed regarding additional brothel locations in Oklahoma City and Kansas City. Another victim was located by HSI special agents in Oklahoma City Jan. 26, 2012. When she told her caretakers that she wanted to return to Houston, she was told that she could not leave. She identified photos of Velasquez-Ramirez and Sanchez-Ajin as the caretakers of the two locations she had worked performing sex acts in Tulsa.

HSI, FBI, and IRS-CI special agents, with assistance from TCSO, conducted an extensive investigation of the sex trafficking organization. The investigation revealed that the organization was responsible for coordinating the movement of both sex trafficking victims and willing prostitutes to locations in multiple states.

IRS-CI special agents and the U.S. Attorney's Office's financial analyst assisted with an extensive financial investigation and traced the flow of illicit funds from brothel locations in several states to the organization's leaders.

Investigators identified Juan Rosales-Garza and Gloria Giammalva, a married couple, as leaders of the sex trafficking organization that was operating in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Investigators also identified Piedad Currea-Garcia as a leader within the organization that operated sex trafficking ventures in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

Currea-Garcia, Rosales-Garza and Giammalva, along with Velasquez Ramirez and Sanchez-Ajin, were all indicted in the Northern District of Oklahoma in a series of four superseding indictments for sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.

In April 2012, Rosales-Garza and Currea-Garcia were both located and arrested by HSI special agents in Kansas City pursuant to federal arrest warrants following the execution of a federal search warrant in Kansas City, Mo.

On April 26, 2012, Gloria Giammalva was arrested outside the U.S. Magistrate Courtroom in Tulsa when she arrived for Rosales-Garza's detention hearing.