WASHINGTON – Two brothers, Victor Omar Lopez and Oscar Mondragon, were sentenced 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 the Civil Rights Division Grace C. Becker and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Don DeGabrielle. U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore sentenced Lopez to 109 months in prison followed by three years of probation and ordered that he, jointly with his co-defendants, pay $1.7 million in restitution to the victims. Mondragon was sentenced to 180 months of imprisonment and was ordered to pay, jointly and severally with his co-defendants, over $1.1 million of the total of over $1.7 million in restitution awarded in the case.
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.
Both Lopez and Mondragon previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to hold persons in a condition of peonage; to illegally recruiting, harboring and transporting persons for labor and services; and to conspiring to bring, harbor, and transport known illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain. Peonage is a condition of involuntary servitude imposed to extract repayment of an indebtedness.
Lopez and Mondragon lured Central American women to the United States with promises of good jobs. However, once the young women arrived, they were forced to work in the bars and cantinas of the defendant and co-defendants selling alcoholic drinks to male customers. The women were subjected to numerous threats of harm to themselves and family members in order to compel their servitude.
“Defendants Victor Omar Lopez and Oscar Mondragon were members of an international conspiracy that lured young women from Central America to Texas on false promises of a better life and then betrayed that promise by holding these women in a condition of forced servitude in restaurants and bars in Houston,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker. “This is a despicable crime that harms all of society, and the Department of Justice will continue to aggressively work to prosecute human traffickers.”
“The excellent investigative efforts from our combined Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance were more than a match for the depraved indifference of these organized criminals,” said U.S Attorney DeGabrielle.
Co-defendants Maximino Mondragon and Walter Corea have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Co-defendant Olga Mondragon, who was convicted of multiple charges stemming from her involvement in these schemes to hold young Central American victims in a condition of forced labor and to smuggle the young women to the United States for financial gain, was sentenced to 84 months in prison. Co-defendant Maria Fuentes was convicted of harboring the young women for financial gain and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Co-defendant Lorenza Reyes-Nunez was convicted of obstruction of justice and 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation, 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.