Federal Jury Convicts San Jose Woman In Sex Trafficking Conspiracy
Defendant facilitated sex trafficking ring involving three minor victims and profited from their sexual exploitation
SAN JOSE – A federal jury convicted Araceli Mendoza today of conspiracy and sex trafficking of children, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. The conviction follows a two-week trial before the Honorable Beth Labson Freeman, U.S. District Judge.
At trial, the government proved that Mendoza, 29, of San Jose, conspired with three co-defendants to operate an unlawful prostitution venture in cities throughout the South Bay, including San Jose and Santa Clara. Between September 2014 and January 2016, these four individuals collaborated to sell the sexual services of adult women and minor girls. The government demonstrated that, Ariel Guizar-Cuellar, 41, of San Jose, was the leader, primary facilitator, and main financial beneficiary of the unlawful commercial sex venture. He used social media networks to identify victims, took pictures of women and girls, and then posted the pictures online on “backpage.com” to advertise sexual services. Mendoza worked with Guizar-Cuellar; Jocelyn Contreras, 26, of Redwood City; and Alyssa Anthony, 27, of Gilroy, to recruit women and girls to work as prostitutes and exotic dancers, transport them to and from prostitution dates, book hotel rooms for the prostitution dates, collect money after the dates, and create and post prostitution advertisements on the internet. The jury found that Mendoza both conspired with her codefendants to facilitate the sex trafficking venture and specifically sex trafficked one minor girl by recruiting, enticing, harboring, providing, and transporting her for the purpose of commercial sex or by benefitting financially from the girl’s exploitation.
On April 7, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted all four coconspirators charging them with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and three counts of sex trafficking of children, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591 as to each minor victim. Guizar-Cuellar also was charged with one count of sexual exploitation of children, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e). Guizar-Cuellar, Contreras, and Anthony all previously pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
At trial, Mendoza asserted a duress defense. Nevertheless, today the jury convicted Mendoza of conspiracy and substantive sex trafficking as to one of the minor victims. The jury acquitted Mendoza of sex trafficking for a second minor victim and failed to reach a verdict as to the sex trafficking of the third minor victim.
Judge Freeman scheduled a sentencing status hearing for all four defendant on October 19, 2021. The 18 U.S.C. § 1591 charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. The statutory maximum sentence for the charge is life in prison. The maximum statutory penalty for the conspiracy charge is five years in prison. In addition, restitution is mandatory to all victims of sex trafficking. However, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marissa Harris, Annie Hsieh, and Sarah Griswold are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Nina Burney, Sahib Kaur, and Elise Etter. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI, the San Jose Police Department, and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force.