Three Cuban nationals were sentenced for sex trafficking and related crimes in strip clubs in the Houston area.
Rasiel Gutierrez Moreno, 38, Hendry Jimenez Milanes, 39, and Rafael Mendoza Labrada, 29, were each sentenced to 210 months in prison and to pay $451,298 in restitution, 120 months and $359,108 in restitution, and time served of 34 months, respectively.
Gutierrez Moreno pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and interstate travel in aid of racketeering Oct. 28, 2021. As part of his plea agreement, Gutierrez Moreno admitted to bringing women from Cuba to the United States and imposing on them inflated smuggling debts as high as $30,000. Gutierrez Moreno forced the women to work in Houston-area strip clubs, such as Michaels’ International, where they danced and engaged in commercial sex acts with club patrons, providing all the proceeds to Gutierrez Moreno to pay down their debt. The defendant further acknowledged smuggling and imposing debts to coerce approximately 20 other women in this manner.
Gutierrez Moreno admitted that, to keep Victim 1 under his control while she worked for him, he bragged about his acts of violence against other women and their families. On one occasion, Gutierrez Moreno beat another woman shortly before Victim 1 arrived at his home and ensured that Victim 1 observed that woman’s injuries. When Victim 1 escaped Gutierrez Moreno, the defendant contacted her family in both Miami and Cuba to demand that she return to work and finish paying her debt to him.
Jimenez Milanes pleaded guilty on Jan. 10, 2022, to coercion and enticement, and Mendoza Labrada pleaded guilty on April 30, 2021, to interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
“These defendants cruelly used violence, threats of violence, and false debts to force vulnerable victims to engage in commercial sex,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This kind of sex trafficking scheme is unlawful, dehumanizing and terrorizing to the women unable to break free. The Justice Department is committed to the vigorous prosecution of those who prey upon, abuse and exploit others for their own financial benefit.”
“These human smugglers terrorized female migrants, using Houston’s strip clubs combined with psychological threats and sexual violence for their personal financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. “The victims came to the United States in search of a new life, were especially vulnerable, and the defendants took advantage of that. The sentences imposed today send a strong message that the Southern District of Texas will not tolerate those who smuggle, threaten and abuse the vulnerable.”
“The court’s sentence today sends a strong message: The Diplomatic Security Service is committed to making sure that those who commit sex trafficking face consequences for their criminal actions,” said Special Agent in Charge John Keith of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Houston Field Office. “DSS’ strong relationship with the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies around the world continues to be essential in the pursuit of justice.”
“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will always remain dedicated and focused on the identification and recovery of the victims of human trafficking. We prioritize not only the safe rescue of these victims, but work with our partners to provide them with resources necessary to help them deal and cope with their experience,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury of HSI Miami. “We are committed to working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to put any human trafficker who soullessly preys on victims of this crime to put them behind bars.”
The DSS investigated the case as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA), with the assistance of HSI Miami and the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.
Established in 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston formed HTRA to combine resources with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those survivors who the traffickers victimized. Since its inception, HTRA has been recognized as both a national and international model in identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking and prosecuting those engaged in trafficking offenses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack for the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Kate Hill of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.
If you believe you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, call local law enforcement or the 24/7 confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.