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December 6, 2023Houston, TX, United StatesChild Exploitation, Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Unlawfully present Honduran national gets 50 years for kidnapping and raping 15-year-old child

HOUSTON — A Honduran national who illegally resided in Houston was sentenced Dec. 4 to 50 years in federal prison for traveling across interstate lines to engage in sex with a 15-year-old child using drugs, violence and threats of violence against her family to manipulate and control her.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service conducted the investigation that led to the conviction. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee worked together to locate and rescue the victim.

Wilmer Rivera-Hernandez, a 33-year-old unlawfully present Honduran national, was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to 50 years in prison following his conviction on Aug. 24 for interstate travel with intent to engage in a sex act with a minor. The judge also ordered Rivera-Hernandez to register as a sex offender and serve the rest of his life on supervised release following completion of his prison term. During that time, he must comply with numerous requirements designed to restrict his access to children and the internet.

In June 2020, Rivera-Hernandez took a 15-year-old girl on what was supposed to be a date, but it quickly turned into a nightmare. After the minor realized Rivera-Hernandez was just driving around, she asked him to take her home. He refused and grabbed her by the head, strangled her, threatened her and her family’s safety, seized her phone and forced her to drink alcohol and take medication to intoxicate her and limit her ability to defend herself. He then drove her from Houston to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he took her to a motel and raped her. The next day he drove her through Arkansas and into Tennessee.

At some point, the victim accessed a phone and contacted her family to tell them to call the police. Her family contacted law enforcement officials who used geolocation to locate Rivera-Hernandez and the child at a truck stop in Knoxville, Tennessee, where authorities rescued her.

At the hearing, the court heard a statement from the victim describing her transformation from a young, innocent girl into someone who feels anger, pain, guilt, numbness, depression and humiliation. In handing down the sentence, the court noted the reprehensible nature of Rivera-Hernandez’s actions, noting that he could not be allowed to walk among civilized people.

After his indictment and arrest, Rivera-Hernandez also engaged in a scheme to obstruct justice from prison. He arranged for the creation and delivery of fabricated WhatsApp messages purporting to be from his victim. In these manufactured messages, Rivera-Hernandez made it appear as if she recanted her claims of kidnapping and rape and that she was always in love with him. By having these messages delivered to the prosecution, Rivera-Hernandez hoped it would lead to the dismissal of his charges. A thorough investigation, however, quickly revealed the messages were fake and that Rivera-Hernandez attempted to obstruct justice.

Rivera-Hernandez will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the future.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sharad Khandelwal and Stephanie Bauman prosecuted the case.

For more news and information on HSI’s efforts to aggressively investigate child exploitation and human trafficking in Southeast Texas follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, @HSIHouston.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.