WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice yesterday announced that Juan Mendez pleaded guilty to two counts of commercial sex trafficking. Mendez admitted to providing two juvenile girls to engage in commercial sex acts knowing that force, fraud and coercion had been used. Eight other defendants have pleaded guilty in this same case for crimes including child sex trafficking, conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, conspiracy to commit money laundering, enticing an individual to travel in interstate commerce to commit prostitution, and failure to file a factual statement about an alien. Mendez could be sentenced to life imprisonment. A sentencing date has been set for June 19, 2007. Mendez is in the custody of U.S. Marshals.
At his plea hearing, Mendez admitted that he knew both victims were juveniles and were lured into the United States under false pretenses believing they would be restaurant workers. He then prostituted them at brothels in Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.
The victims in this case were children thrust into the brutal and demeaning world of human trafficking; they were fed lies, and treated as modern-day slaves,@ said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. AThe Justice Department is committed to the vigorous enforcement and prosecution of human trafficking offenses.@
AThose engaged in human trafficking prey on innocent victims, which has an enduring and everlasting effect on their lives,@ said David Kustoff, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. AAs a top priority, the Department of Justice will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute these cases.
Human trafficking prosecutions such as this one are a top priority of the Department of Justice. In the last seven fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorneys= Offices, has increased by nearly seven-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court as compared to the previous seven fiscal years. In FY 2007, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Parker of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Tennessee and Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice are prosecuting the case. The investigation in this matter is being conducted by Memphis FBI Agent Tracey Harris and Memphis U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Greg Sweargin, along with ICE agents in Nashville, the Memphis Police Department, and the Nashville Police Department. World Relief Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and the YWCA have assisted the victims and witnesses in this matter.