WASHINGTON - Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division Grace Chung Becker and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Don DeGabrielle announced that Walter Corea was sentenced today for his role 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. U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore sentenced Corea to 180 months in prison and further ordered that he, jointly with his co-defendants, pay $1,715,588 in restitution to the victims.
"These defendants used false promises and threats of harm to lure and coerce vulnerable women and girls into conditions of forced labor and servitude," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Becker. "The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously prosecuting human trafficking cases such as this one."
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.
"Some measure of justice has been meted out today," DeGabrielle said. "Any who think of smuggling and enslaving fellow human beings should count this very real cost of doing business."
Corea previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hold persons in a condition of peonage and to illegally and knowingly recruiting, harboring and transporting persons for labor and services. Peonage is a condition of involuntary servitude imposed to extract repayment of an indebtedness. He has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bring, harbor and transport known illegal aliens for purposes of commercial advantage and private financial gain.
Corea lured young 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 high-priced drinks to male customers. The women were subjected to numerous threats of harm to themselves and family members in order to compel their servitude, and some suffered sexual assaults at the hands of the defendant and his co-defendants.
Co-defendant Oscar Mondragon, the operator of the Mi Cabana Sports Bar, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to conspiring with his brothers, Maximino Mondragon and Victor Omar Lopez, and others to smuggle Central American women and girls into the United States and forced them to labor in Houston area bars and cantinas. Judge Gilmore sentenced Mondragon on April 28, 2008, to 180 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay, along with his other co-defendants, $1.1 million of the $1.7 million total ordered in restitution to the victims. Lopez was sentenced April 21, 2008, to 109 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay, jointly with all other co-defendants sentenced to date, the entire $1.7 million restitution amount. 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. Maria Fuentes was convicted of harboring the young women for financial gain and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Lorenza Reyes-Nunez was convicted of obstruction of justice and has been sentenced to 19 months in prison, and Kerin Silva was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle aliens and sentenced to 12 months home detention followed by three years of probation. Maximino Mondragon has also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced June 9, 2008.
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, Becker and DeGabrielle commended the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, the Texas Alcoholic 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 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.