Five Defendants Convicted of Sex Trafficking, Alien Smuggling and Money Laundering
International Sex Trafficking Organization Forced Young Women and Girls from Mexico into Prostitution in the United States for More Than a Decade
Following two weeks of trial, a federal jury in Brooklyn last night returned guilty verdicts convicting Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas, Francisco Melendez-Perez, Abel Romero-Melendez, Jose Osvaldo Melendez-Rojas and Rosalio Melendez-Rojas, all members of the Melendez-Rojas Organization, of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, sex trafficking of minors, interstate prostitution, alien smuggling and money laundering conspiracy. When sentenced by United States District Judge Allyne R. Ross, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment on the most serious charge. A sixth co-defendant, Fabian Reyes-Rojas, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking on December 27, 2019. Jose Osvaldo Melendez-Rojas and Rosalio Melendez-Rojas were extradited to the United States from Mexico in October 2018.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York and Dermot F. Shea, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the verdicts.
Between 2006 and July 2017, the defendants transported women and girls, including minors, to the United States and coerced them to work in prostitution. The defendants used false promises of love, marriage and a better life to lure their victims into romantic and sexual relationships, and then isolated them from their families by bringing them to live with the defendants in Tenancingo, Mexico. Upon arrival in the United States, the defendants resorted to brutal beatings, threats of violence, forced abortions and psychological manipulation to compel their victims to work in prostitution in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware. The defendants took the proceeds generated from the victims’ prostitution, and laundered it to conceal its source.
At the trial, a victim identified as “Delia” testified that she was forced into prostitution by Melendez-Perez and his uncle Rosalio Melendez-Rojas when she was only 14 years old. When she refused to work, Melendez-Perez beat her, and when he thought she might be pregnant, he tried to force her to have a miscarriage. During their six to seven-hour working shifts, the victims were typically forced to have sex with 15 to 20 men. The defendants confirmed the number of customers by counting the number of unused condoms returned at the end of the victims’ shifts.
“The crimes committed by the members of the Melendez-Rojas Trafficking Organization were horrific,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “It is my hope that today’s verdicts bring some measure of closure to the young women who bravely testified during the trial and who suffered greatly while under the control of the defendants. We will not tolerate the sexual exploitation of women and girls by brutal criminals like these defendants.”
“The atrocities this organization committed against young women, robbing them of their youth and forcing them to work as prostitutes, are disgraceful,” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Fitzhugh. “HSI and our partners work tirelessly to gain the trust of those who are forced into this reprehensible crime, ensuring these victims and their families are given an opportunity once they are rescued from sex traffickers. This conviction does not just point to the outstanding work of the investigative team, it serves as a testament to the will and courage of those victims to tell their stories.”
The investigation, prosecution, bilateral enforcement action and extradition of the defendants apprehended in Mexico were coordinated through the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative. Since 2009, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts in the bilateral initiative to more effectively dismantle human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, bring human traffickers to justice, restore the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims and reunite victims with their children. These efforts have resulted in successful prosecutions in both Mexico and the United States, including U.S. federal prosecutions of more than 170 defendants in multiple cases in Georgia, New York, Florida and Texas, in addition to numerous federal and state prosecutions of associated sex traffickers in Mexico. The extraditions in this case are the latest development in the Eastern District of New York’s comprehensive anti-trafficking program, which has to date indicted more than 80 defendants for sex trafficking; assisted more than 150 victims, including over 40 minors; reunited 19 victims’ children with their mothers; and secured restitution orders of over $4 million on behalf of trafficking victims.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Tanya Hajjar, Erin Argo and Gillian Kassner.
JOSE MIGUEL MELENDEZ-ROJAS
FRANCISCO MELENDEZ-PEREZ (also known as “Paco” and “El Mojarra”)
Queens, New York
ABEL ROMERO-MELENDEZ (also known as “La Borrega” and “Borrego”)
Queens, New York
JOSE OSVALDO MELENDEZ-ROJAS
ROSALIO MELENDEZ-ROJAS (also known as “Leonel, “Wacho” and “El Guacho”)
Co-Defendant Who Previously Pleaded Guilty:
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 17-CR-434 (ARR)