Key Member of International Human Trafficking Ring Sentenced to Twenty Years
Defendant Smuggled Women in from Mexico and Then Compelled Them Into Prostitution in Metro Atlanta
ATLANTA - Francisco Cortes-Meza, 26, of Mexico, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story in the Northern District of Georgia for sex trafficking in an organization that targeted young Mexican women.
Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said, “This defendant preyed on vulnerable women who dreamed of a better life in the United States. Individuals who force women into prostitution commit a heinous crime that will not be tolerated. The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable traffickers who seek to profit at the expense of the freedom, rights and dignity of others.”
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates said, “Prosecuting human trafficking cases is a priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the dual goals of punishing the traffickers and protecting the victims. Traffickers often prey upon those who may be vulnerable due to their immigration status, unfamiliarity with our legal system, or fear of law enforcement. Every victim of this heinous crime is protected by the laws of the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, and should not fear coming forward to report this criminal abuse. ”
“While we cannot undo the irreparable harm caused to these victims, we hope that today's sentence brings some closure allowing them to heal and move forward,” said Kenneth A. Smith, Special Agent in Charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Atlanta. “Traffickers worldwide are selling terrible lies to young women luring them with promises of a better future. Through prosecutions like this, we are sending the message to traffickers that their crimes will not go unpunished.”
Cortes-Meza was sentenced to 20 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution to the victim in the amount of $21,000. Cortes-Meza was convicted of these charges on Dec. 16, 2008 when he entered a guilty plea to one count of sex trafficking by means of force, fraud, or coercion.
According to U.S. Attorney Yates and the information presented in court:
From Spring 2006 through June 2008, Cortes-Meza, 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. Often the conspirators would lure the women to the U.S. by promising better lives, legitimate employment or romantic relationships with the defendants. Drivers collected the victims from the homes where they lived with the defendants in Norcross and drove them to apartments and homes where paying clients waited for commercial sex.
Specifically, Cortes-Meza lured one young woman to the United States under the false pretense that she would find a job in a restaurant. Cortes-Meza paid smugglers to bring the victim to the United States. Once she was here, Cortes-Meza compelled her to engage in commercial sex acts with 30-40 men every night, and to give him the money she collected. The evidence in the case showed Cortes-Meza controlled the victim’s daily life and was physically violent with her.
The Department of Justice has identified human trafficking prosecutions such as this one as a top priority in the Department. In order to bring defendants to justice, victims of crime may be eligible for immigration status in the United States to assist in the prosecution. Three women testified today at the sentencing hearing for Cortes-Meza, and spoke of physical threats, beatings and intimidation, forcing the victim to work as a prostitute, and that she was not allowed to speak to anyone. NOTE: The Department of Homeland Security Tip Line to report trafficking crimes is 1-866-347-2423.
This case was investigated by Special Agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge and Trial Attorney Karima Maloney of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.