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May 1, 2013New York, NY, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

HSI special agents arrest 13 in connection with an alleged international sex trafficking and prostitution network

NEW YORK – More than a dozen members of an alleged international sex trafficking ring were taken into custody Tuesday to face charges for sex trafficking. The arrests are a result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

A criminal complaint unsealed April 30 charged 13 defendants with sex trafficking; interstate transportation for prostitution; use of interstate facilities to promote a prostitution enterprise; obstruction of justice; possession of child pornography; and illegal reentry after deportation. The group allegedly exploited dozens of women, some of whom were trafficked from Mexico to New York and forced to engage in prostitution.

Two defendants, Isaias Flores-Mendez, 40, and David Vasquez-Medina, 28, were already in federal custody on charges of illegal reentry after deportation. Another defendant, Carlos Garcia-De La Rosa, 32, was already in custody on state charges and will be transferred to federal custody. One defendant, Juana Lucas-Sanchez, 36, was arrested Tuesday afternoon in Delaware. One of the defendants charged in the complaint, Panfilo Flores-Mendez, 39, remains at large.

In connection with Tuesday’s arrests, HSI executed search warrants on six locations, including four brothels in Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and Queens.

"The arrests today move the United States closer to blockading the repugnant sex trafficking corridor that organizations like the one allegedly operated by Isaias Flores-Mendez and his cohorts use to smuggle innocent victims between Tenancingo, Mexico and New York City," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "HSI will vigorously target and prosecute leaders and members of sex trafficking organizations who seek to prey on the innocence and trust of young women and children in order to enslave them for profit and devote all necessary resources to rescuing victims of sex trafficking and exploitation."

"With promises of a better life, the members of this alleged sex trafficking and prostitution ring lured their unsuspecting victims to the United States and then consigned them to a living hell – forcing them to become sex slaves living in abhorrent conditions, and using threats, verbal abuse, and violence – sexual and otherwise – when they resisted and even sometimes when they didn’t," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "With their arrests Tuesday, the barbaric conduct in which these defendants allegedly engaged in order to make a profit has now been put to a stop, and they will be prosecuted for their alleged crimes and the women they enslaved will be able to put their lives back together."

According to the allegations in the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:

Since at least 2008, nine of the defendants charged in the complaint have been engaged in a criminal prostitution and sex trafficking enterprise. The enterprise is part of a larger network of sex traffickers who generally operate between Tenancingo, Mexico, and New York, among other places. The typical pattern and practice of this network is to lure women to the United States by, among other things, engaging them in romantic relationships and promising a better life in New York. After the women are smuggled from Mexico to New York, they are forced to begin working as prostitutes against their will under abhorrent conditions.

The victims are often beaten, threatened with physical harm to them and their family members, sexually assaulted, and verbally abused. In a typical day, a Mexican sex trafficking victim in New York has sexual intercourse with 20 to 30 customers. Each customer usually pays $30-$35 for 15 minutes of sex. Of that $30-$35, $15 typically goes to either the driver who transported the woman to the client or to the residential brothel where the woman worked. The other $15 goes to the victim, who is then typically forced to give all of it to the trafficker. Traffickers typically provide their victims with condoms and birth control pills. In some cases, if a victim is suspected of being pregnant, her trafficker makes her take a drug to induce a miscarriage.

In September 2006, a woman ("Victim-1") living in Mexico with her young child was smuggled into the United States and brought to Queens, New York, by Isaias Flores-Mendez, and Bonifacio Flores-Mendez. Once in New York, Victim-1 was made to sleep on the floor with her child. Thereafter, Isaias Flores-Mendez, Bonifacio Flores-Mendez, and Juana Lucas-Sanchez used threats, verbal abuse, and violence to force her to engage in prostitution against her will. For example, on one occasion, when Victim-1 refused to work as a prostitute, Isaias Flores-Mendez pushed her and her young child outside on a cold winter night, locked the door, and refused to let her back in. On other occasions, he beat her. Victim-1 was forced to engage in prostitution against her will on a daily basis, often servicing more than 20 customers per day in brothels located in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Yonkers, New York as well as in Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. On one occasion, when Isaias Flores-Mendez, Bonifacio Flores-Mendez, and Juana Lucas-Sanchez suspected that Victim-1 was pregnant, they forced her to take medication to induce a miscarriage. Isaias Flores-Mendez took all of the money Victim-1 earned.

In late 2006 or early 2007, David Vazquez-Medina told his then-girlfriend ("Victim-2") that she should work as a prostitute and that the women he drove to brothels and to customers’ residences to engage in prostitution made 200 dollars or more a day. Victim-2 refused. Vazquez-Medina pressured Victim-2 to work as a prostitute, and when she did not immediately comply, he became angry and verbally abusive. As a result, Victim-2 relented to his demands. After approximately two weeks, Victim-2 pleaded with Vazquez-Medina to let her get other jobs to make money, and to stop making her work as a prostitute. Vazquez-Medina beat her, threatened to take her child, and told her she had no choice. For approximately two years, Victim-2 worked as a prostitute against her will, and Vazquez-Medina kept the proceeds. On some occasions, he drove Victim-2 to farms in New Jersey where she had sex with approximately 25 men per day. On other occasions, Vazquez-Medina made arrangements for her to work in other states. Over time, Vazquez-Medina had Victim-2 make her own work arrangements and he called the locations where she worked to track how much money she earned so he could ensure that she was turning all of the proceeds over to him.

The participants in this criminal business enterprise served different functions, operating brothels, manning the brothels, driving victims to brothels and to customers’ residences for the purpose of engaging in prostitution, dispatching drivers, passing out chica cards – small cards that are handed out on the street to solicit customers for the enterprise – and recruiting and overseeing the women who work, or are forced to work, as prostitutes. In connection with this prostitution-sex trafficking enterprise, in April 2013, Bonifacio Flores-Mendez enticed at least one woman to travel from New Jersey to New York for the purpose of prostitution.

In October and November 2012, Bonifacio Flores-Mendez and Miguel Angel Che-Veliz, working under the direction of Isaias Flores-Mendez, found and destroyed GPS tracking devices, which law enforcement agents had placed on vehicles used by members of the prostitution-sex trafficking enterprise.

One member of the prostitution-sex trafficking enterprise, Carlos Garcia-De La Rosa, was also charged with possession of child pornography, which he allegedly caused to be produced by a 14-year-old girl with whom he was engaged in a sexual relationship. Two members of the prostitution-sex trafficking enterprise were also charged with illegal re-entry after deportation.

The prosecution of this case is being overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Organized Crime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Kramer and Rebecca Mermelstein are in charge of the prosecution.