A sex trafficking ring that spirited minors across the U.S.-Mexico border has been broken, with the arrest and indictment of seven men authorities say are responsible for the women's abduction and enslavement.
All seven, members of a gang they called STO or "The Traffickers" face life sentences in federal court in New York on charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The crackdown ends an investigation that lasted from 2000 to 2016, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement on Tuesday.
In most cases the victims, usually minors, were lured away from their families by the men, enticed by romantic propositions, but ultimately raped and held captive.
The men are identified as Efraín Granados Corona, 41, Alan Romero Granados, 24, and brothers Pedro Rojas Romero, 37, and Emilio Rojas Romero, 34, who were arrested in Mexico by authorities last week. Raúl Romero Granados, 32, and Isaac Lomeli Rivera, 34, were arrested in the U.S. The seventh man, Juan Romero-Granados, brother of Alan, remains on the lam, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Once a victim was separated from her family, she was forced into prostitution to pay off debts allegedly owed to the men.
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According to authorities, the women were forced to service as many as 20 to 40 customers a day, with all the money going to The Traffickers.
After the victims had worked in Mexico for some time, the group arranged for them to be smuggled to the U.S. Victims were continually abused and coerced to continue working as prostitutes through fear of violence.
The victims were then either placed in brothels and forced to work, or delivered to a customer’s home by a driver – the victims were taken to locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.
The Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit have been collaborating with Mexican law enforcement since 2009, working toward dismantling human trafficking networks operating across the border.
In the statement, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “Human trafficking is a corrosive and degrading practice that goes against both the rule of law and the most basic standards of human dignity ... I want to commend our partners in Mexican law enforcement for their commitment to combating human trafficking. We thank them for their cooperation in this important action, and for their ongoing collaboration in our shared efforts to end human trafficking in our nations.”
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of HSI, the work of the Mexican law enforcement in executing the arrest warrants and preparing for the extradition of the defendants to the United States, and the assistance provided by the New York City Police Department, the U.S. State Department, the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.