A Mexican national, who legally resided in Mission, Texas, pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas today to sex trafficking a minor.
In February 2022, a federal grand jury indicted Rita Martinez, 65, for using force, fraud and coercion to compel 10 victims, both adults and minors, to engage in commercial sex work in a cantina that Martinez owned and operated in Mission, Texas, known at various times as Perez Lounge, Rita’s Lounge and Rita’s Sports Bar.
In January 2023, a co-defendant in the case, Genaro Fuentes, 40, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor.
As part of her plea agreement, Martinez admitted that she operated a cantina in Mission, Texas, from 2000 to 2019 and provided housing to a minor victim whom she knew to be 16 years old in the spring or summer of 2005. Martinez had the minor victim clean her house, but eventually, sent the minor victim with men from the cantina, knowing that these men intended to engage in commercial sex with the minor victim. Martinez also admitted that she accepted money from these clients before allowing them to take the minor victim out of the cantina to engage in commercial sex. Martinez applied the money to a smuggling debt that she imposed upon the minor victim to transport her from Mexico into the United States. The minor victim left Rita’s cantina in the fall of 2006.
“Human trafficking – particularly trafficking of children – is a reprehensible crime with far reaching consequences. Traffickers degrade human dignity and decimate individual rights while at the same time undermining public safety, border security, economic opportunity and the rule of law,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department remains committed to prosecuting human traffickers for this heartless exploitation of vulnerable young people and to obtaining restitution on behalf of victims.”
“Behind her cantina, Rita Martinez tormented and forced young migrant women and girls into sexual acts, acts with Rita’s male patrons,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. “No one should have to endure that kind of treatment. Sometimes it takes time, but we will not give up. We will make sure people like Martinez answer for violating the laws of the United States by preying on the weak and vulnerable members of our society.”
“Human trafficking strips victims of their bodily autonomy and devastates families and communities,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Justice would not be possible without the courage of the victims to come forward and tell their story. The FBI is grateful for their bravery and devoted to bringing justice to anyone affected by human trafficking.”
Martinez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. As part of Martinez’s plea agreement, she agreed to pay over $840,000 in restitution to 14 victims. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 7.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke, U.S. Attorney Hamdani and Assistant Director Quesada made the announcement.
The FBI investigated the case, with assistance from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura Garcia and Sherri Zack for the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Kate Hill of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit are prosecuting the case.
Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about human trafficking, please visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org. Information on the Justice Department’s efforts to combat human trafficking can be found at www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.