WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice announced that Fernando Reyes-Santillan, of Memphis, Tenn., pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of commercial sex trafficking of a minor, relating to his role in a Memphis trafficking ring. At his plea hearing, Reyes-Santillan admitted to operating a brothel and knowingly employing a juvenile to engage in prostitution. Reyes-Santillan faces up to 40 years in prison.
“The dark and reprehensible world of human trafficking all too often involves minor girls who are forced into prostitution,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute these crimes of outrageous victimization.”
Two additional co-defendants, brothers Diego Cortes-Barrientos and Rafael Cortes-Barrientos, each pleaded guilty to one count of failing to file a factual statement about alien individuals they harbored for the purpose of prostitution. The Cortes-Barrientos brothers each face up to ten years imprisonment.
With these pleas, eight defendants have pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and commercial sex charges in connection with brothels operated in this Memphis trafficking ring. Four other defendants remain under indictment in the 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. All persons charged with crimes are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, the Cortes-Barrientos brothers admitted to working at brothels in Memphis and taking money from clients who engaged in sexual activities with alien prostitutes. Both further admitted that neither they nor any of the other operators of the brothels had filed a factual statement with the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization setting forth the names of the aliens, the place at which they were kept, the date of their entry into United States, their ports of entry, or their ages, nationality or parentage.
Human trafficking prosecutions are a top priority of the Department. In the last six fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has increased by six-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court, quadrupled the number of defendants charged, and tripled the number of defendants convicted. In 2006, 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 FBI Agents in Memphis and Nashville, ICE Agents in Memphis and Nashville, the Memphis Police Department, and the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department. World Relief, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the YWCA have assisted the victims and witnesses in this matter.