Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Five plead not guilty to luring women to U.S. for prostitution

Five men --- four of them related -- pleaded not guilty in a federal sex trafficking case in which prosecutors contend they brought at least 10 young Mexican women to the U.S. illegally and forced them to work as prostitutes in metro Atlanta.

Amador Cortes-Meza, 34; Juan Cortes-Meza, 31; Francisco Cortes-Meza, 25; Raul Cortes-Meza, 21; and Edison Wagner Rosa Tort, 69; face trial after entering their pleas Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta with help from an interpreter.

A 31-count indictment charges the defendants with human trafficking and other related offenses stemming from activities uncovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs and Bartow County and Gwinnett County sheriff's investigators.

The Cortes-Mezas, all Mexican nationals, were arrested June 5 in Norcross, where they were living. Authorities took Tort, a legal permanent resident originally from Uruguay, into custody June 24 in Cartersville.

Prosecutors accuse the men of conspiring to seduce, entice and recruit the women ages 14-28 to travel here from Mexico with promises of legitimate jobs, then force them into prostitution in the metro Atlanta and elsewhere after their arrival. Four women involved were under 18, and the defendants allegedly used threats, coercion, and physical violence to force them to cooperate.
Some were held against their will or harbored at locations in Cartersville, where Tort lived, and in Norcross.

The women were delivered to clients' apartments or homes and were required to have sex with up to 30 men per day, authorities said.

The activity dates to spring 2006, the indictment said.

The defendants remain in federal custody as they await trial. Their victims, some who arrived in this country two years ago to as little as several days before the arrest were made, are in safe houses and shelters.

The women most likely will be able to remain in the United States under visas for victims and are unlikely to face criminal charges or deportation, according to Patrick Crosby, a U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman.

A Norcross teenager who lived near one of the houses where the women stayed said she was suspicious of her neighbors' activities.

A few young women -- dressed in short skirts and halter tops or dresses and heels "like they're going out on a date" -- would each climb into a different car lined up in front of the house on the weekends, sometimes during the daytime, said Vianey Trejo, 17, a rising senior at Norcross High School. The girls always seemed to be different.

When the neighbors moved to Charmaine Bend about about five months ago, nothing seemed unusual. A woman in her 30s or 40s had come over to Trejo's house to introduce herself and asked her to translate a letter about a water bill and how to arrange for trash pickup -- neighborly things.

A few of the younger women had come along, but they stayed back. Trejo figured they were her younger sisters.

Over on Rockborough Trail, several neighbors were unwitting.

"That's messed up," said Albert Brown, 60, who works mornings at Dekalb Medical. "I usually notice everything."

All he'd spotted were the nice cars in the driveway -- a red Pontiac sedan, white SUV and a sports car like a Camaro.

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