Saturday, July 05, 2008

Houston: Sex Ring Crackdown

From the Chron:

The farewell party was in full swing at midnight when police came for Maximino "El Chimino" Mondragon, his accomplices and his victims — scantily dressed women and girls he forced to sell beers and sexual favors under the flashing lights of a revolving crystalline disco ball inside his strip mall bar off Hempstead Highway.

Mondragon was celebrating his retirement at El Potrero de Chimino bar, also known as the Wagon Wheel. He had a one-way ticket back to his native El Salvador and blueprints in the bar for a brand-new hotel back home.

Then uninvited guests arrived.

Pickups packed the parking lots at five related bars and restaurants in northwest Houston, as more than 100 officers from federal, state and local agencies rushed in the night of Nov. 13, 2005. Interviews with the arresting agents and documents recently obtained by the Houston Chronicle provide the first detailed account on how one of the nation's largest sex trafficking rings was dismantled in Houston — considered both a center of operations and transit point for international sex and labor traffickers.

Task force members — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission — had expected to find 50 or 60 women. Eventually, they rescued about 120 victims.

In interviews, victims told agents they had been forced to work six or seven nights a week and to allow men to buy them overpriced drinks in exchange for their company or for sexual favors.

The main targets were the lead cantina owner, Mondragon; head smuggler, Walter Corea; as well as their relatives and wives. Corea was sentenced in May to 15 years; Mondragon's sentencing, the last, is set for Sept. 22.

Faced with reams of evidence, seven have pleaded guilty.

To the members of the then-nearly new Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, the mass arrests and rescues represented a significant enforcement victory. The size of the Mondragon ring, as well as others dismantled elsewhere, convinced law enforcement authorities that the problem of forced labor in the U.S. is likely much larger than anyone anticipated and continues to proliferate in Houston.

For years, the ring preyed on women and girls from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, illegally bringing them to Houston with false promises of legitimate work and then forcing them to work in cantinas to pay off smuggling fees from $8,000 to $15,000 — as well as all living expenses, according to court records and interviews with investigators.

Read the full article

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:50 PM

    I wonder how many innocents are just in Houston that are going through this and nobody can help. Including me.. Well, I know there is a huge amount but regardless that one is enough to not tolerate this kind of injustices..