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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

South Texas bar owner sentenced to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking minors

Co-defendants were also sentenced for their roles in sex trafficking

MCALLEN, Texas - The owner of a south Texas bar was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on Tuesday for sex trafficking minors, announced U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI).

Beleal Garcia-Gonzalez, 35, Mission, Texas, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane on Aug. 23. In addition to the 360-month prison sentence, Judge Crane sentenced Garcia-Gonzalez to a five-year-term of supervised release. Additionally, the court ordered that Garcia-Gonzalez forfeit his residence, which he used to harbor the minors, and pay restitution to the girls he victimized.

"The court's sentence clearly reflects the seriousness of these awful sex trafficking crimes," said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in San Antonio. "We can't erase the pain and suffering these young women experienced. But our aggressive pursuit of these cases with our law enforcement partners sends a powerful warning about the significant consequences involved for those who commit these crimes."

Garcia-Gonzalez was convicted Sept. 23, 2010 after a three-day jury trial. He was charged with three counts of sex trafficking, one count of conspiracy to harbor aliens and six counts of harboring aliens. During his September 2010 trial, the jury heard testimony from ICE HSI special agents. They stated that an investigation was initiated when they received information that underage illegal aliens were being forced to work and being prostituted at the El Paraeso Bar in Mission, Texas. Ultimately, agents rescued three girls, ages 14, 15 and 17, working at the bar and being prostituted by Garcia-Gonzalez, the bar's owner.

The jury learned that the three minors had been living with their family in Honduras when they were promised a job working at a restaurant making $700 a week in the United States. In court, the girls testified that the defendant spoke to their mother on the phone to make the arrangements. The girls were illegally smuggled into the United States expecting jobs.

Instead, they worked at Garcia-Gonzalez' bar making only $120 a week which was deducted from the $4,500 fees they each owed Garcia-Gonzalez for being smuggled into the country. Garcia-Gonzalez told the girls that they could make $3 for every beer that a customer bought them and that they could keep any money they made having sex with customers, minus $50 they would have to pay him.

The girls began working by selling and drinking beer with the customers. However, they soon realized they were not making any money because Garcia-Gonzalez never paid them. Needing money, the girls turned to the only other option Garcia-Gonzalez had given them - prostitution.

Garcia-Gonzalez was charged along with several other co-defendants and who were also sentenced on Tuesday. Cesar Enrique Sarmiento-Mendoza, 33, of Honduras, worked at the bar and was left in charge of the bar when Garcia-Gonzalez was not there. Jenny Beatris Parada-Ponce, 27, of El Salvador, who was a prostitute herself, explained to the girls about prostitution among other things. Sarmeinto-Mendoza and Parada-Ponce each pleaded guilty to one count of sex trafficking prior to Garcia-Gonzalez's trial. Judge Crane sentenced Sarmiento-Mendoza to seven years of imprisonment; Parada-Ponce was sentenced to six years.

Two others were also charged as a result of this ICE HSI investigation. Elizabeth Mendez-Vasquez, 23, of Mexico, and Maria Luisa Vasquez-Garcia, 21, of Mexico, were also charged and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens on Aug. 27, 2010. Mendez-Vasquez was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment Tuesday. Vasquez-Garcia is pending sentencing on Aug. 31, 2011.

All three girls are now in foster care.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Ann Leo with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorney Anibal Alaniz, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.