NEW YORK – The young Mexican women were driven to rural New Jersey, where their handlers used threats to make them have sex with 25 farmworkers a day. Or they were confined to dingy brothels in the New York City area that advertised their services with "chica cards," business cards passed out on street corners to attract customers. They were paid very little, or nothing at all.
U.S. authorities detailed their ordeal in a criminal complaint charging 13 people with smuggling dozens into the United States and forcing them into prostitution. Some of the defendants were to appear Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan to face multiple counts including sex trafficking and interstate transportation for prostitution.
The ring "lured their unsuspecting victims to the United States and then consigned them to a living hell," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
The investigation was among several aimed at "blockading the repugnant sex trafficking corridor" used to exploit victims from Tenancingo, Mexico, said James Hayes, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York.
Tenancingo, an impoverished town in Tlaxcala state, has long been a notorious haven for pimps who use a combination of threats, abuse and broken promises of marriage and jobs to put innocent victims, some only in their teens, on a path to sex slavery in Mexico City and in large cities in the United States.
Most victims eventually manage to escape, authorities say in court papers. But, they add, "without legal status in the United States, without family and friends for support, without employment opportunities and as a result of the trauma they suffered, victims sometimes return to prostitution."
In interviews with investigators, one unidentified woman described how when she refused to work at brothels located in apartments in Queens and suburban Yonkers, she and her child were locked out of their home on a cold winter night. She also told authorities that her pimps, believing she was pregnant, forced to take drugs intended to induce a miscarriage, and that she was beaten when she once tried to withhold some of her earnings.
Another woman recounted becoming romantically involved with a man who smuggled her into the United States, only to learn he made a living delivering prostitutes to New Jersey to have sex with farmworkers. She said he used threats to force her into the sex trade for two years before he was deported.
According to the complaint, the ring provided its victims with condoms and birth control pills while making them have sex with up to 30 men a day. The men paid $30 for 15 minutes. The women sometimes got a $15 cut but that usually went to the traffickers.
If convicted, some of the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The evidence includes wiretaps of customers and pimps haggling over prices, the complaint says.
"What girls do you have?" one customer asked.
"From Salvador and Mexico."
"How do they look?"
"They both look good."
The pimp quoted a price of $70.
"Can you do it for 60?"