HOUSTON — More than a dozen alleged gang members and gang associates are set to appear in federal court Wednesday to face a variety of charges that include sex trafficking, drug trafficking, unlawfully selling firearms, human smuggling and identity theft.
A federal grand jury returned the 37-count indictment Nov 7, which was partially unsealed Wednesday following a motion in federal court.
This indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez, Southern District of Texas. This case was investigated by the following agencies: FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), ICE Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO), and Houston Police Department’s Texas Anti-Gang Center. This investigation is part of both the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDFTF) and the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA).
Those arrested during the Nov. 7 enforcement actions include: Houston residents Giovani Alecio, aka Whiteboy, 26, Victor Javiel Gonzalez, 29, Maria Angelica Moreno-Reyna, aka Patty, 51, Gabriela Gonzalez-Flores, aka Gabby, 46, Eddie Torres, aka Monterrey 38, Jose Luis Moreno, aka Lucky, 23, Gilberto Espinoza Garcia, 49, Hector Reyna, aka Pantera, 26, Jimmy Mejia Chavez, 33, and Grisel Salas, aka Cris, 34, from Donna, Texas; and Jose Ruben Palomo-Martinez, 48, from Mission, Texas. Those arrested in the Houston area made their initial appearances in federal court Nov. 8 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson.
Two more defendants — Erik Ivan Alvarez-Chavez, aka Casa, 39, and Denis Amaya Calballero, aka Keiko, 25, both of Houston — were already in custody on related charges and are expected to make their appearances in federal court in the near future.
The following nine others were also charged but are considered fugitives and warrants remain outstanding for their arrests: Bianca Stephanie Reyna, aka Troubles, 20, Claudia Soriano-Hernandez, 26, Juan Carlos Contreras Cervantes, 25, all from Houston; Raul Moreno Reyna, aka Coney, 53, William Alberto Lopez, 27, Anadalit Duarte, aka Paola, 25, and Walter Lopez, 26, all originally from Houston but are believed to have fled to Mexico; and Israel Juarez Sifuentes, 43, and Melissa Dominguez, aka Missy, 50, both of Donna. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI Houston field office at: 713-693-5000.
All of the defendants are indicted in the criminal scheme as alleged members or affiliates of the Southwest Cholos street gang. All are charged in varying counts to include the following crimes:
- multiple conspiracy counts;
- sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion;
- sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud or coercion;
- transportation to engage in prostitution;
- enticing or coercing another to travel in interstate commerce for prostitution;
- transporting illegal aliens;
- importing aliens for immoral purposes;
- possession with the intent to distribute heroin;
- possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines;
- illegal dealing of firearms;
- felon in possession of a firearm;
- illegal re-entry;
- false statements; and
- aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, the defendants operated several brothels in apartments throughout Houston as well as in Mexico. The primary location was the Carriage Way Apartment Complex on Dashwood in southwest Houston, which was also home to their base of operations for drug and firearms trafficking, according to the allegations.
In the sex trafficking scheme, illegal aliens were allegedly promised they could work in a restaurant to pay off their smuggling debts. After arriving in Houston, however, victims were told they actually had to work as prostitutes in brothels that the alleged gang members controlled. The indictment alleges the defendants engaged in numerous acts and threats of violence against the victims and their families whenever the women refused to work as prostitutes or failed to make enough money.
The indictment further alleges the defendants tattooed their names or nicknames on the victims to identify them as their property and demonstrate control over them. Authorities have identified at least six trafficking victims, the youngest of whom was 14 years old. At the time of these arrests, seven more victims were found in the brothels.
Some of the defendants also allegedly engaged in human smuggling separate from the sex trafficking scheme. The indictment alleges at least nine aliens have been identified as being smuggled through stash houses that some of the defendants controlled in the Rio Grande Valley to locations in Houston. The smuggled aliens paid substantial sums, including two Chinese nationals who each paid more than $40,000, according to the charges. During the Nov. 7 enforcement actions, 16 more smuggled illegal aliens were discovered in area stash houses.
The indictment also alleges several counts of heroin and methamphetamine trafficking to include selling numerous stolen firearms.
If convicted of sex trafficking, the defendants face a minimum of 15 years and up to life imprisonment. Those charged with drug trafficking also face up to life with a minimum of 10 years as possible punishment. Human smuggling convictions carry a maximum of 20 years imprisonment; those convicted of illegally trafficking firearms face another five years imprisonment.
Soriano-Hernandez, Mejia-Chavez and Contreras-Cervantes were also indicted for illegally re-entering the United States following their deportation for which they face up to two years imprisonment. Javiel Gonzalez is also charged as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and faces up to 10 years imprisonment.
Alvarez-Chavez also allegedly stole the identity of a Salvadoran man so he could obtain temporary protected status as a citizen of that country. If convicted, he faces a mandatory two years in federal prison, which must be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed.
This investigation demonstrates the coordination among law enforcement that are part of the Houston Law Enforcement Violent Crime Initiative announced in June 2017 which combines personnel and resources from numerous federal, state and local agencies. The goal of the initiative is to proactively fight and reduce violent crime across the Greater Houston area by targeting the region’s most violent offenders, augmenting investigative and prosecutorial efforts, and enhancing training, public awareness and education.
Established in 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s office, Southern District of Texas in Houston formed the HTRA to combine resources with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those that the traffickers victimized. Since its inception, HTRA has been recognized as a national model in identifying and assisting human trafficking victims, and prosecuting those engaged in trafficking offenses. In 2016, the HTRA received $1.5 million in federal funds from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office for Victims of Crime through the Enhanced Collaborative Model Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Program, which provides funding to investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking and provide services to victims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Goldman, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.