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Houston Women Sentenced for Human Trafficking Related Charges

WASHINGTON- Defendants Olga Mondragon and Maria Fuentes were sentenced today for their roles in a scheme to smuggle Central American women and girls into the United States and hold them in a condition of forced labor in bars and cantinas in the Houston area, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General for Justice Department’s Civil Rights Grace C. Becker and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Don DeGabrielle.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore sentenced Olga Mondragon to 84 months of imprisonment and further ordered that she, jointly with her co-defendants pay over $1.1 million in restitution to the victims. Mondragon was further ordered to serve a period of three years of supervised release after release from prison and to pay $1,300 in special assessments.

In all, eight defendants have been convicted in connection with this scheme to compel the victims into service in restaurants, bars, and cantinas in the Houston area, using threats to harm the victims and their families if they attempted to leave before paying off their smuggling debts.

Defendant Olga Mondragon previously pleaded guilty to multiple charges stemming from her involvement in the scheme, including multiple counts of holding young Central American victims women in a condition of forced labor, a forced labor conspiracy, and immigration offenses relating to the smuggling of the Central American women into the United States for financial gain. Defendant Maria Fuentes previously pleaded guilty to Alien Harboring for Financial Gain.

“The defendants in this case lured young female victims to the Houston area with false promises of prosperity, and then used threats of physical harm to them and their families in order to force them to entertain male customers and engage in the sale of alcoholic beverages to those customers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Becker. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring the basic right of all persons in the United States to be free from this modern-day form of slavery.”

Co-defendants Maximino Mondragon, Oscar Mondragon, Walter Corea, and Victor Omar Lopez have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Co-defendant Lorenza Reyes-Nunez was convicted of Obstruction of Justice and has been sentenced to 19 months in prison. Co-defendant Kerin Silva was convicted of Conspiracy to Smuggle Aliens and sentenced to 12 months home detention followed by three years of probation.

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.

In announcing the sentencing, Acting Assistant Attorney General Becker and U.S. Attorney DeGabrielle commended the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, the Harris County Constable Precinct Five Office, and the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, a federally funded multi-agency human trafficking task force, for their work on this cooperative investigation and prosecution.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ruben Perez and Joseph Magliolo and Civil Rights Division attorneys Jim Felte and Hilary Axam prosecuted this case for the government.