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October 28, 2014Houston, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

3 arrested in Houston, 1 in Miami; charged with sex trafficking minors

HOUSTON — Four individuals were arrested this week charging three counts of sex trafficking a minor and one count of conspiring to harbor illegal aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This case was investigated by the following law enforcement agencies as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA):  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), FBI, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and the Houston Police Department.

The indictment was returned under seal Aug. 20 and fully unsealed as all four individuals were arrested by federal authorities Oct. 29 and 30. Luisa Vargas is expected to appear in court in Miami where she was taken into custody. Blasina Vargas, 53, Dolores Vargas, 63, and Ignacio Escandon, 48, were arrested in Houston and will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy Oct. 29.

“The victims in this case were forced to experience terrors no child should ever be exposed to,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Houston.  “HSI and our HTRA partners are committed to rescuing these kids and bringing their traffickers to justice wherever they may be.”

The indictment alleges that from at least Feb. 12, 2012 to the present, the four defendants conspired to cause a person under 18 years of age to engage in a commercial sex act. They allegedly operated several apartments located in the 10,000 block of Westview in Houston as brothels. The indictment further alleges the defendants instructed minor undocumented Mexican victims and young women how to solicit and charge for commercial sex acts. The defendants then collected all the fees that were paid for the sex acts.

The four will be also charged with harboring and concealing illegal aliens in Houston.

The HTRA was formed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston as part of a broader effort by the Department of Justice to concentrate and combine resources of the office’s civil rights and organized crime units.  HTRA also enlists the resources of other federal, state law and local enforcement agencies and non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers, while also providing necessary services to those victimized by the traffickers. The Houston HTRA was one of the first of 42 such funded organizations and the first of its kind in Texas. The mission of the HTRA is to foster the collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with area social service organizations to identify and assist the victims of human trafficking and to effectively identify, apprehend and prosecute those engaged in trafficking offenses.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Davis, 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.

Updated: 10/30/2014