NEW YORK – The former owner of the bars Sonidos de la Frontera in Lake Ronkonkoma and La Hija del Mariachi in Farmingville was sentenced to 60 years of imprisonment Wednesday for his lead role in a sex trafficking and forced labor ring. The sentence resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and the Suffolk County Police Department.
Antonio Rivera, 38, was sentenced along with two co-defendants, John Whaley, 33, and Jason Villaman, 34, after they were convicted in a four-week trial of multiple offenses, including conspiracy, sex trafficking, forced labor, alien harboring and alien transportation. Whaley and Villaman were sentenced to 25 and 30 years, respectively.
"The defendants lured vulnerable young women to the United States with the promise of a better life and the ability to earn a living to support their families. Once here, the defendants then turned their American dream into a nightmare, subjecting them to unspeakable physical violence and emotional abuse, as well as threats of deportation, in order to line their own pockets. The lengthy sentences imposed today are fair and just punishment for the intolerable crimes that these defendants committed." stated U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. "We will continue our efforts to ensure that the full protection of the law is provided to all our residents."
Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to HSI, the Suffolk County Police Department, the FBI, and the IRS for their assistance in this case.
"The men sentenced today lured innocent women with dreams of good paying jobs that turned into a nightmare of forced prostitution backed by threats and violence. The victims of these heinous crimes have now begun the healing process they so justly deserve," said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes. "HSI special agents will continue to work with the Human Trafficking Task Force and other law enforcement agencies to identify victims and to pursue the criminals who prey on them."
The government’s evidence at trial established that the defendants and others recruited, hired and harbored in the United States scores of undocumented Latin American immigrants to work as waitresses in Rivera’s bars. The women had come to the United States from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Rivera placed ads and flyers seeking waitresses in Spanish language newspapers and at local businesses frequented by Spanish speaking immigrants. After the women agreed to work as waitresses, Rivera directed them to solicit patrons to buy them alcoholic beverages, which the women were required to consume. He eventually forced them to engage in sexual acts with the patrons in exchange for money, which Rivera kept. Several witnesses testified that Rivera and others used violence, including rapes and beatings, as well as fraud and threats of deportation to compel the victims to continue to work for him and prevent them from reporting the illegal activity to police.
One victim testified that she was raped by a bar patron inside Sonidos during business hours in full view of patrons and employees. Another victim testified that on one occasion she was transported by Villaman to a local hotel where she was raped while unconscious by a bar patron and awoke to find Villaman watching the assault. A third victim testified that Rivera raped her on multiple occasions and subsequently ordered a security guard to brutally beat her. According to the victim, the security guard drove her to a deserted parking lot after work and, once there, viciously beat her. According to other testimony, Whaley, who assisted Rivera in hiring waitresses, maintaining the bars, and transporting the waitresses to and from the two bars, sexually assaulted one of the victims whom he was supposed to drive home.
Testimony also revealed that Villaman acted as a security guard at Sonidos de la Frontera and assisted Rivera in illegal acts against victims, including dumping an unconscious victim on the lawn outside her home after he and Rivera had assaulted her. Several victims testified that their wages were often taken from them under the guise of being placed into a short-term group savings scheme called the "Society," but were not returned to them as promised. This forced the victims to remain in Rivera’s employ in hopes of recouping their money.