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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Florence man sentenced for sex-trafficking of 15-year-old girl

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A Florence man found guilty for sex trafficking a 15-year-old girl was sentenced Wednesday to more than 15 years in prison following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Manuel Enrique Zelaya-Rodriguez, 32, was convicted of trafficking the underage girl for sex, coercing a minor to engage in prostitution, harboring an illegal alien and failing to file a report with ICE about an illegal alien in his employment. A federal jury in Florence convicted Zelaya-Rodriguez in September 2010. Zelaya-Rodriguez is an illegal alien who will be subject to deportation after serving his sentence of 15 years and eight months.

According to court records, Zelaya-Rodriguez, also known as Mecanico, harbored the girl in Lauderdale County and caused her to engage in commercial sex acts between Aug. 25 and Sept. 8, 2009. Florence police arrested Zelaya-Rodriguez in September 2009 following a traffic stop near a trailer park where there had been complaints of prostitution. The 15-year-old girl was in the car with Zelaya-Rodriguez and subsequently told police he was prostituting her.

"Exploitation of children in any form is despicable, but sexual exploitation is particularly heinous," said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New Orleans.  "HSI will go the extra mile to catch those individuals who prey on these innocent victims. Identifying and investigating those who victimize children is one of HSI's most important responsibilities and HSI is committed to hunting down these predators."

The investigation leading to the guilty verdict was conducted by ICE HSI with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Florence Police Department.