Key Member of Atlanta Human Trafficking Ring Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking Charges
At Least 10 Victims, Including Several Minors, Were Compelled into Prostitution
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that Juan Cortes-Meza, a Mexican National, pleaded guilty in federal district court in Atlanta to sex trafficking offenses involving young Mexican women and girls. Otto Jaime Larios Perez, a Guatemalan National, also pleaded guilty today to making a false statement to law enforcement and, thereby, obstructing a human trafficking investigation. Earlier this year, two other defendants charged in the same indictment, Francisco Cortes-Meza and Raul Cortes-Meza, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking offenses.
From Spring 2006 through June 2008, Juan Cortes-Meza, 31, and others charged in the conspiracy recruited and enticed approximately 10 victims to come to the Atlanta area from Mexico to engage in prostitution for the financial benefit of the members of the alleged conspiracy, according to information presented in court. With false promises of better lives, legitimate employment or marriage, Juan Cortes-Meza lured young, impoverished, rural Mexican women and girls with limited education, knowing the victims would actually be compelled into prostitution through a scheme of strict controls and physical violence.
The defendants who brought the victims into the United States used drivers, including defendant Larios Perez, 25, to transport the victims to the locations where they were forced to engage in acts of prostitution. Larios Perez was prosecuted for false statements he made when law enforcement officers stopped him with a victim in his car.
"Human trafficking and forced prostitution deny the victims not only their freedom, but also their dignity, and this sort of abhorrent illegal conduct will not be tolerated. We are committed to combating human trafficking and prosecuting those who exploit vulnerable women and girls for financial benefit," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King of the Civil Rights Division. "I applaud the many hardworking investigators and attorneys who have toppled this ring and brought its members to justice."
"Human trafficking is modern day slavery that robs individuals of their freedom and can have lasting psychological harm. Compelling women or girls by force, fraud or coercion to engage in commercial sex acts is a serious violation of federal law. This insidious abuse preys upon those who may be vulnerable due to their immigration status, unfamiliarity with this country’s legal system or fear law enforcement," said U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias for the Northern District of Georgia. "Federal laws protect all victims of such heinous crimes whether or not they are citizens. No victim should fear coming forward to report illegal activity and criminal abuse."
Sentencing hearings for defendants Juan Cortes-Meza and Otto Jaime Larios Perez related to the pleas entered today have not yet been set. The sex trafficking offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. In determining the actual sentence for both defendants, the Court will consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide advisory sentencing ranges.
This case is being investigated by Special Agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Assistant U.S. Attorneys Corey Steinberg and Susan Coppedge and Trial Attorney Karima Maloney of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit are prosecuting the case.