U.S. Attorney Charges Ten with Sex-Trafficking at Local Bars

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U.S Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today an indictment against ten defendants allegedly involved in a human trafficking ring at a local nightclub and restaurant. The defendants, who include the owners and several employees of La Costeñita and El Club Restaurante, allegedly helped keep captive at least nine Mexican women -- three of whom were underage -- for prostitution.

Here's the story, according to the indictment:

Maria "Nancy" Rojas, the owner of La Costeñita, and her brother Jose Luis Rojas, who operated the business, conspired together to stock their restaurant full of underage Mexican prostitutes. They recruited girls and women in Mexico by promising them restaurant jobs in Houston. But once they were smuggled into Texas, they were forced to become sex slaves instead of waitresses.

The Rojas siblings relied on Mexican pimps to bring the women to work at the bar in order to pay off their smuggling debts, which they greatly exaggerated. "If the smuggler/coyote charged $2,000 per girl, they would tell her she owed $4,000 for her trip," the indictment says.

No matter how many clients they had per day, the victims never saw any money. La Costeñita charged clients $65 for 15 minutes of sex, which went directly to the pimps and the conspirators. For them, business was booming. A $15 room fee brought in at least $5,000 per day on the weekends.

The victims were both physically and psychologically abused: Jose Luis Rojas pressed a gun against the pregnant belly of one of the victims and threatened to kill her and her baby. The defendants routinely threatened to harm the victims' families back in Mexico, and said that they'd be deported if they went to the police.

Moreno condemned human trafficking at the press conference held at the U.S. Attorney's office today. "It happens under our noses, under the guise of legitimate businesses," he said.

Trafficking tactics are evolving, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez. "It used to be that they could pay off their debt," he said of the victims. "(The traffickers) don't do that anymore...they keep them in perpetual debt. That $15 dress he bought at Walmart suddenly becomes $100," he said. Threats of harming the victims' families back in Mexico are usually enough to keep victims' mouths shut. "Psychological coercion is worse than a beating," Perez said.

Perez emphasized that victims, regardless of status, should always come forward to law enforcement. This investigation, which has been ongoing for three years, was sparked by a phone call to police. "If the victims are here legally or illegally, they have the full protection of the U.S. Constitution," Perez said. "We're not going to deport them as long as they're victims and they help us."

Moreno also announced an indictment against a Houston doctor and nine others who are being charged with Medicare fraud.

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