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April 9, 2012

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Leaders in Sex Trafficking/Alien Harboring Conspiracy Handed Lengthy Federal Sentences

HOUSTON – Maria Rojas aka “Nancy,” 47, and Jose Luis Rojas, 39, the leaders of an organization involved in the trafficking of Mexican females for compelled service at Houston area bars and restaurants through force, fraud and coercion have landed significant time in federal prison, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. On Nov. 28, 2011, Maria and Jose Luis Rojas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens as well as conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes sentenced Maria Rojas aka “Nancy,” and Jose Luis Rojas to 16 years for their convictions for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking in addition to 10 years for conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The sentences will run concurrently. Maria Rojas, who also pleaded guilty to illegal re-entry after deportation, received an additional 24 months to be served concurrently to her other sentences.

The two were charged with a conspiracy involving the recruitment of Mexican women and girls to travel to the United States with the false expectation of legitimate jobs in bars and restaurants. Once the women and girls arrived in the United States, they were forced into prostitution in one of the defendants’ bars. The conspirators further relied on the services of pimps to supply the women for use as prostitutes to maintain control of the women. Maria Rojas was the owner of La Costenita, formerly Playa Sola, as well as El Club Restaurante, formerly La Cueva Restaurante Bar, both located on Clinton Drive in Houston. Jose Luis Rojas operated La Costenita.

Eight others were also charged in the indictment with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. Javier Guevara Belmontes, 46, also owned, controlled and operated La Costenita and El Club Restaurante. Maday Martinez, 34, and Evelin Carolina Aguera, 37, worked as managers, while Claudia Perez Ramirez, Silvano Santos aka “Chivas,” Francisco Maradiaga Jimenez aka “Pancho,” and Olvan Ramirez Caceres worked at La Costenita as lookouts alerting police presence. The final defendant, Aleyda Juarez, passed out condoms and charged the females $15 for the condom as well as use of the rooms.

Aguera, Santos, Perez Ramirez, Maradiaga Jimenez, Ramirez Caceres and Juarez have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to terms ranging from eight to 11 months for their roles in conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and all will be deported upon completion of their sentences. Martinez and Belmontes have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Judge Hughes forfeited two bars, one restaurant and several properties which the court found were used to facilitate these crimes. The government intends to request the proceeds from these forfeitures be used to aid the victims in this case. A hearing will be held on April 16, 2012, to address restitution in the case.

The investigation leading to the filing of criminal charges was the result of a three-year investigation conducted by members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) in Houston, which includes the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission, Texas Attorney General’s Office, Department of State, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department. The HTRA was formed by the United States Attorney’s office in Houston as part of a broader effort by the Department of Justice to concentrate and combine resources of our own office’s civil rights and organized crime units as well as federal, state law and local enforcement agencies and non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those victimized by the traffickers. The Houston HTRA was one of the first of 42 such funded organizations and the first of its kind in Texas. The mission of the HTRA is to foster the collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with area social service organizations to identify and assist the victims of human trafficking and to effectively identify, apprehend and prosecute those engaged in trafficking offenses. 

Assistant United States Attorneys Ruben R. Perez and Joe Magliolo prosecuted the case, while Katherine Haden handled the asset forfeiture matter.