Former Long Island Bar Owner Sentenced to 60 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking, Forced Labor and Immigration Crimes on Long Island
Two Co-Defendants Receive Prison Sentences of 25 and 30 Years
Earlier today, Antonio Rivera, the former owner of the bars Sonidos de la Frontera in Lake Ronkonkoma and La Hija del Mariachi in Farmingville, New York, was sentenced to 60 years’ imprisonment for his role in a sex trafficking and forced labor ring. Rivera’s co-defendants, John Whaley and Jason Villaman, were sentenced to 25 and 30 years, respectively. The sentences were imposed by United States District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein at the United States Courthouse in Central Islip, New York. The three defendants were convicted after a four-week trial of multiple offenses including, conspiracy, sex trafficking, forced labor, alien harboring, and alien transportation.
The sentences were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division; James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York; Edward Webber, Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department; George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office; and Toni Weirauch, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York.
The government’s evidence at trial established that the defendants and others recruited, hired, and harbored in the United States scores of undocumented Latin American immigrants to work as waitresses in Rivera’s bars. The women had come to the United States from Honduras, Guatelmala, Mexico, and El Salvador. Rivera placed ads and flyers seeking waitresses in Spanish language newspapers and at local businesses frequented by Spanish-speaking immigrants. After the women agreed to work as waitresses, Rivera directed them to solicit patrons to buy them alcoholic beverages, which the women were required to consume, and eventually forced them to engage in sexual acts with the patrons in exchange for money, which Rivera kept. Several witnesses testified that Rivera and others used violence, including rapes and beatings, as well as fraud and threats of deportation to compel the victims to continue to work for him and to prevent them from reporting the illegal activity to police.
One victim testified that she was raped by a bar patron inside Sonidos during business hours in full view of patrons and employees. Another victim testified that on one occasion she was transported by Villaman to a local hotel where she was raped while unconscious by a bar patron and awoke to find Villaman watching the assault. A third victim testified that Rivera raped her on multiple occasions and subsequently ordered a security guard to brutally beat her. According to the victim, the security guard drove her to a deserted parking lot after work and, once there, viciously beat her. According to other testimony, Whaley, who assisted Rivera in hiring waitresses, maintaining the bars, and transporting the waitresses to and from the two bars, sexually assaulted one of the victims whom he was supposed to drive home. Testimony also revealed that Villaman acted as a security guard at Sonidos de la Frontera and assisted Rivera in illegal acts against victims, including dumping an unconscious victim on the lawn outside her home after the he and Rivera had assaulted her. Several victims testified that their wages were often taken from them under the guise of being placed into a short-term group savings scheme called the “Society,” but were not returned to them as promised, which forced the victims to remain in Rivera’s employ in hopes of recouping their money.
“The defendants lured vulnerable young women to the United States with the promise of a better life and the ability to earn a living to support their families. Once here, the defendants then turned their American dream into a nightmare, subjecting them to unspeakable physical violence and emotional abuse, as well as threats of deportation, in order to line their own pockets. The lengthy sentences imposed today are fair and just punishment for the intolerable crimes that these defendants committed.” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “We will continue our efforts to ensure that the full protection of the law is provided to all our residents.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to HSI, Suffolk County Police Department, FBI, and the IRS for their assistance in this case.
“These defendants preyed on some of the most vulnerable members of our society – young, undocumented women and girls seeking a better life – and brutally exploited them in a scheme driven by cruelty and greed,” stated Deputy Assistant Attorney General Austin. “Human trafficking is an affront to freedom and individual rights. The sentences handed down today affirm our commitment as a nation to bringing human traffickers to justice and restoring the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims.”
“The men sentenced today lured innocent women with dreams of good paying jobs that turned into a nightmare of forced prostitution backed by threats and violence. The victims of these heinous crimes have now begun the healing process they so justly deserve,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Hayes. “HSI agents will continue to work with the Human Trafficking Task Force and other law enforcement agencies to identify victims and to pursue the criminals who prey on them.”
“These victims and other immigrants have the rightful expectation to be protected against those that may take advantage of their vulnerability. These three predators deserve the lengthy sentences they have received for the unforgivable acts they perpetrated against their victims,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Webber. “The Suffolk County Police Department will continue to work jointly with federal, state and local law enforcement partners to curb forced labor, violence and sex-trafficking within the county.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos stated, “The defendants have received sentences that reflect the gravity and depravity of the crimes they committed. No human being, regardless of immigration status, can be tormented the way the victims of these defendants were without the strongest possible response from our justice system. The horrific physical violence, sexual predation and emotional torment suffered by the victims cannot be undone, but long prison terms for the defendants mean they will not be in any position to inflict such torment again.”
IRS Special Agent-in-Charge Weirauch stated, “IRS-Criminal Investigation is grateful that we were able to support our law enforcement partners in this important investigation and prosecution. The victims in this case endured incredible physical, emotional and financial hardships. We sincerely hope they will be able to heal and move forward.”
The government’s case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Demetri M. Jones and Licha Nyiendo, and Senior Litigation Counsel John Cotton Richmond of the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
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