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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

HSI investigation leads to the extradition of Mexican sex traffickers

NEW YORK — The extradition and arraignment of four Mexican sex traffickers – along with the reunion of a Mexican sex trafficking victim and her child – was announced Dec. 10 as a result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

On Monday, two Mexican nationals, Benito Lopez-Perez, 32, and Anastasio Romero-Perez, 39, were arraigned on a 25-count indictment after their extradition from Mexico. The indictment charges the defendants with sex trafficking, interstate prostitution, alien smuggling and money laundering offenses, involving victims as young as 14 and 15 years old.

A third defendant in that case, Jose Gabino Barrientos-Perez, 51, was extradited from Mexico and arraigned Dec. 3 on the same charges as his co-defendants.

If convicted of sex trafficking, these defendants face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years and maximum sentences of life in prison.

Another Mexican sex trafficking defendant, Antonio Lira-Robles, 37, was also extradited and arraigned in federal court Nov. 19 in a separate multi-defendant case on charges of sex trafficking, interstate prostitution, alien smuggling and money laundering. Four defendants in the Granados-Hernandez case have pleaded guilty to sex trafficking crimes and are awaiting sentencing. Two of the defendants face 15-year mandatory minimum sentences. If convicted of sex trafficking, Lira-Robles faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The successful reunification of a Mexican sex trafficking victim with her child, who was being held in Mexico by members of a trafficking organization, was also announced as part of the investigation. The man who had trafficked the victim and fathered the child was convicted in 2005 of multiple counts of sex trafficking and numerous other crimes in one of the first sex trafficking cases prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY). After substantial post-conviction investigation and international coordination, the child was located and reunited with the victim-mother.

"Few crimes are more repugnant than the trafficking of innocent women and girls for sex," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "The extraditions over the weekend followed by the arraignments today are a testament to our resolve to bring to justice those charged with forcing young women into prostitution. HSI places equal value on the identification and rescue of victims as we do for the prosecution of traffickers who prey on them. HSI is committed to working closely with its local and international law enforcement partners to ensure there is no safe haven for those who seek to gain financially through the extortion and coercion of the victims of human and sex trafficking."

"As alleged, the defendants lured young women into the world's oldest profession using the world's oldest ruse – the promise of a committed relationship and a better life. Once here in the United States, the women were cut off from their families and kept dependent on the traffickers, whose promises of love soon turned to lies, beatings, and threats to the victims' families in order to maintain their hold over them. These latest extraditions and the reunification of a victim with her child are the culmination of a sustained and committed effort by the United States government and its partners in Mexico to work together, and to work with their partners in the community, to identify, prosecute and punish sex traffickers and to restore the dignity and lives of survivors of this heinous crime," said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch, Eastern District of New York. "The sex trafficking of young girls and women is modern-day slavery. We will do everything in our power to eradicate it."

"The Department of Justice commends the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York for the tireless dedication her office has shown, placing her district on the cutting edge of the department's nationwide anti-trafficking efforts. Reuniting this survivor with her child – after the traffickers cruelly tore them apart – vindicates the rights and dignity of the human beings victimized by this crime, and inspires us to continue in our relentless pursuit of justice," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "We will continue to build strategic partnerships to bring traffickers to justice and deliver on the promise of freedom for victims of modern-day slavery."

Lopez-Perez Case

As alleged in affidavits submitted in connection with the extradition proceedings, between January 2003 and October 2010, Benito Lopez-Perez, Jose Gabino Barrientos-Perez and Anastasio Romero-Perez, who are brothers, are charged with trafficking three young Mexican women, identified in the superseding indictment in this case as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3, from Mexico without proper documentation, and forcing them to work as prostitutes in New York and elsewhere in the United States. The defendants recruited and enticed the three victims when they were 14 and 15 years old in Mexico. After luring the victims into intimate relationships through false promises of romance and marriage, the defendants forced the victims to work for the defendants as prostitutes in Mexico. The defendants beat and sexually assaulted the victims to compel them to work as prostitutes and punish them for not earning enough money for the defendants, and the victims were required to turn over all of their earnings to the defendants. The defendants also threatened violence against the victims' family members to prevent the victims from running away.

In July 2005, Lopez-Perez, Barrientos-Perez and Romero-Perez began smuggling the victims into the United States illegally to work as prostitutes. The defendants housed the victims in apartments in New York. Each day, the victims were driven to locations throughout New York and to other states to engage in prostitution. The three brothers worked together, frequently relying on each other to watch over the victims when any of the brothers traveled back to Mexico.

After the victims had arrived in the United States, the defendants directed the victims to send the money they earned from prostitution to the defendants' family members in Mexico. At the defendants' direction, the victims went to various wire transfer service companies in New York on a regular basis and sent sums of money ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to the defendants' family members in Mexico. The defendants also directed the victims to use fake names when sending the money.

Granados-Hernandez Case

As set forth in extradition affidavits, between October 1998 and June 2011, members of the Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking organization, including Lira-Robles and his cousins Eleuterio Granados-Hernandez, Samuel Granados-Hernandez, and others, smuggled young women from Mexico illegally into the United States, forced them to work as prostitutes in New York and elsewhere in the United States and collected profits from their activities. Eight of the victims of this sex trafficking organization are identified in the third superseding indictment in the Granados-Hernandez case as Jane Doe 1 through Jane Doe 8. The younger male members of the Granados-Hernandez family, including Lira-Robles, Eleuterio Granados-Hernandez and Samuel Granados-Hernandez, recruited the victims by luring them into romantic relationships through false promises of love and support. Eleuterio and Samuel Granados-Hernandez have each pleaded guilty to sex trafficking in the Granados-Hernandez case.

When the victims were first recruited, they were taken to the Granados-Hernandez 's hometown, Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, Mexico, usually under false pretenses. Many of the victims were not allowed to leave the Granados-Hernandez homes, and they were not allowed to contact their families. After a short stay at the Granados-Hernandez 's homes, Lira-Robles and other members of the organization pressured the victims to travel to the United States.

The victims were smuggled by the Granados-Hernandez organization into the United States illegally. The victims were housed in apartments in New York, often living with other wives or girlfriends of Granados-Hernandez family members. Upon arriving in New York the victims learned, most of them for the first time, that the members of the organization intended for them to work in prostitution. When the victims refused or resisted, Lira-Robles, Eleuterio Granados- Hernandez, Samuel Granados-Hernandez and other members of the organization beat and sexually assaulted the victims to compel them to work as prostitutes. They also threatened to harm the victims' family members in Mexico to prevent the victims from running away. Some of the victims were initially convinced to work in prostitution through false promises that the victims' earnings would be used to build a house in Mexico for the victim and her trafficker-boyfriend. The victims were driven on a daily basis to locations throughout New York and to other states to engage in prostitution.

As alleged, Lira-Robles and his co-conspirators worked together in trafficking the victims, frequently relying on each other to maintain control and watch over the victims when the traffickers traveled between Mexico and the United States, to arrange and pay for smuggling of the victims, and to coerce, trick and compel new victims into relationships with Granados-Hernandez family members and into working as prostitutes.

After the victims arrived in the United States, Lira-Robles and others directed the victims to send the money they earned from prostitution to Granados-Hernandez family members in Mexico.

On a regular basis, Lira-Robles directed his victims to go to various wire transfer service companies in New York City and send sums of money ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to Granados family members in Mexico.

Carreto Case/Victim-Child Reunification

The child of one of the victims from the Carreto case was recently rescued in Mexico and was finally able to join the child's mother in the United States. The victim-mother and her child had been separated by the Carreto organization for over 10 years. The reunification was accomplished through the collaborative efforts of U.S. and Mexican authorities, non-governmental victim service organizations in both countries and pro bono attorneys in Mexico. In total, through the EDNY anti-trafficking program, 14 children have been reunited with their victim-mothers.

Since 2009, the Department of Justice and HSI have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts in the Procuraduría General de la República, the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (SSP), Procuraduría Social de Atención a las Víctimas de Delitos, and non-governmental partners in the United States and Mexico in a Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative.

Through this initiative, the United States and Mexico have collaborated to bring high-impact prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law to more effectively dismantle human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, prosecute human traffickers, rescue human trafficking victims and reunite victims with their families. Other significant bilateral cases have been prosecuted in Atlanta, Ga., and Miami, Fla.

U.S. Attorney Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division for their assistance in obtaining the extraditions of the defendants, and the victim-child reunification, to the New York City Police Department for its longstanding partnership in EDNY's coordinated anti-trafficking program, and to the State Department and International Office of Migration for their assistance in the reunification effort. Ms. Lynch also thanked the many victim service providers and advocates for their dedicated efforts to restore and improve the lives of survivors of trafficking.

In particular, Ms. Lynch thanked the organizations and individuals who provided services and advocacy to the victims in the Lopez-Perez, Granados-Hernandez, and Carreto cases: Safe Horizon; Sanctuary for Families; the Urban Justice Center; the New York City Bar Justice Center; The Legal Aid Society, Civil Division (Bronx); My Sister's Place; Bennu Legal Services; the Hispanic Advocate, IMUMI, attorneys Daniel Palafox Palafox and Luis Rodrigo Iglesias; and the law firms of Steptoe & Johnson; Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett; King & Spalding, and Duane Morris.

EDNY's comprehensive anti-trafficking program has led to the indictment of 52 defendants in sex trafficking cases, and the rescue of over 100 victims, including 17 minors.