Cantina owner and son receive significant sentence for forcing young girl to engage in commercial sex
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
McALLEN, Texas – A Mexican woman, who legally resided in Mission, and a local Texan have been ordered to federal prison for sex trafficking a young girl, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
Rita Martinez, 65, pleaded guilty June 30. Her son - Genaro Fuentes, 41, entered his plea Jan. 26 and admitted his role working at the bar and helping to facilitate the commercial sex.
Chief U.S. District Judge Randy Crane has now imposed a 360-month term of imprisonment for Martinez, while Fuentes was ordered to serve 72 months. Martinez and Fuentes were also ordered to pay $840,000 and $20,000 in restitution to the victims, respectively. In addition, the court forfeited the bar and the home of Martinez. At the hearing, the court heard additional testimony from eight victims, including a woman who was only 12 years old when Martinez brought her from Mexico and started trafficking her as a sex worker in her cantina. Prior to handing down the prison terms, Chief Judge Crane noted some people just have evil in their hearts.
“Martinez’s decades-long business model was simple yet evil: travel to Mexico, entice poor, young girls across the border with false promises of a better life and then force those girls to engage in sexual acts with her bar’s male patrons,” said Hamdani. “Martinez treated the victims like chattel, while physically and psychologically imprisoning them. Today’s sentence ensures the only person left imprisoned, for decades to come, is Martinez and sends a strong message to human traffickers moonlighting as bar owners: you’re next."
“Human trafficking cannot be tolerated, especially those who exploit many victims and use the promise of America to lure vulnerable women and children into the United States, only to coerce them into commercial sex acts,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department remains committed to identifying and prosecuting human trafficking cases, and seeking restitution for the victims who survived these heinous crimes.”
“Today’s sentence will ensure that people like Rita Martinez are no longer able to victimize anyone in vulnerable or desperate circumstances,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Doug Olson for the FBI San Antonio Division. “We want to thank our partners in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) for their continued assistance in bringing predators like this to justice.”
For decades, Martinez smuggled unwitting women and girls from Mexico into the United States and compelled them to engage in commercial sex work in a cantina she owned and operated in Mission known as Perez Lounge, Rita’s Lounge and Rita’s Sports Bar.
Martinez arranged for the young women and girls to engage in commercial sex acts with men who were patrons at the bar. She accepted money from these clients before allowing them to take them out of the bar to engage in the commercial sex. Martinez claimed she applied the money she received from the commercial sex to the smuggling debt she imposed upon the victims for their illegal transport from Mexico into the United States. In addition to working for Martinez, many victims were forced to reside in Martinez’s home.
Martinez and Fuentes will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The FBI led the investigation with assistance from the TABC. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura Garcia and Sherri Zack prosecuted the case along with Trial Attorney Kate Hill of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
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.
Updated December 8, 2023