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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

4 plead guilty in Houston to sex trafficking, harboring and money laundering

HOUSTON — Four people entered guilty pleas Thursday to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens relating to their roles in a sex trafficking, harboring and money laundering organization, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This three-year investigation was conducted as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) which includes the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), FBI, Harris County Sheriff's Office, Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of State, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.

The following four people entered guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. July 17:

  • Abel Medeles aka Chito, 64, of Houston;
  • Odelia Hernandez, 45, of Houston;
  • Eduardo Guzman Gonzales aka Miguel Rojas or El Pantera, 30, of Mexico; and
  • Alberto Mendez Flores aka Ardilla, 25, of Mexico.

As part of their guilty pleas, all four admitted they worked for Las Palmas II, a cantina located in Houston. They all knew the cantina concealed, harbored and shielded illegal aliens who worked there from law enforcement, and that the owners were profiting from such concealment. As part of their employment, they aided in operating the business. And their conduct substantially facilitated the concealment, harboring and shielding of the employees and patrons of the Las Palmas II, whom they all knew were illegally in the U.S.

Medeles operated the Las Palmas II parking lot. It was part of his job to notify his co-conspirators inside the cantina of any law enforcement presence in order for his co-conspirators to be able to conceal from law enforcement the illegal activities in the Las Palmas II. Similarly, on at least one occasion, Hernandez told co-conspirators to lock the doors when she realized law enforcement was coming.

Gonzales and Flores managed the cantina. They paid the owners $20,000 each week out of the money received from the operation of the Las Palmas II and kept all the monies received over that amount.

The cases against the others charged in relation to the investigation remain pending. They are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty through due process of law.

Werlein set sentencing for Medeles and Hernandez for Oct. 10; Gonzales and Flores will be sentenced the following week. At sentencing, each faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine. They all will remain in custody pending their sentencing hearings.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ruben R. Perez and Joe Magliolo, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.