Houston bounty hunter sentenced for running international sex trafficking conspiracy
HOUSTON – A 30-year-old Houston bounty hunter has been ordered to prison following his convictions of sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit visa fraud and international money laundering, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
Luis de Jesus Rodriguez aka Htown Hunter pleaded guilty July 8, 2020.
Today, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes sentenced Rodriguez to a total of 180 months in federal prison for leading an international sex trafficking ring. At the hearing, the court heard a statement from a victim and considered other victim letters detailing the emotional, physical and financial impact of Rodriguez’s sex trafficking scheme. He must also serve 10 years on supervised release and be required to register as a sex offender.
“This case sends a strong message to those who benefit from the exploitation of vulnerable women,” said Lowery. “To those criminal organizations that engage in human trafficking, whether international or domestic, we will combine forces with our local, state and foreign counterparts to find you, arrest you and bring you to justice.”
In 2016, Rodriguez and his international criminal network targeted, recruited and exploited young women in Colombia and the United States by making false promises of a better life. Rodriguez directed them to watch YouTube videos portraying him as a bounty hunter in order to assure the women he was affiliated with law enforcement and could be trusted.
However, once here, the women had to work at Michael’s aka Chicas Locas, a Houston strip club located at 6440 Southwest Freeway. Rodriguez and others forced the victims to sign debt bondage contracts with debts ranging from $13,200 to $25,000. They also had to make daily payments of approximately $250.
During the conspiracy, Rodriguez threatened victims and their families in Colombia, constantly monitored them, tracked their cellphones and ultimately forced them into engaging in commercial sex acts.
When a victim wanted to leave or was non-compliant, Rodriguez resorted to violent methods and claimed it was useless to try to get help due to his purported connections with law enforcement.
Rodriguez also engaged in widespread visa fraud to facilitate the international transportation of the victims. He created fictitious background and occupations to increase the likelihood that visa applications would be approved.
Rodriguez has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, Houston Police Department and IRS-Criminal Investigation led the investigation as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) with the assistance of Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of Labor and its Wage and Hour Division along with police departments in Memorial Village and Los Angeles, California. The Attorney General’s Office of Colombia also provided significant assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eun Kate Suh and Sebastian Edwards are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorney Kate Hill from the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
HTRA law enforcement also includes members of the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Attorney General’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Department of Homeland Security – OIG, Social Security Administration – OIG and Sheriff’s Offices in Harris and Montgomery counties in coordination with District Attorney’s offices in Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties.
Established in 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston formed HTRA to combine resources with federal, state and local enforcement agencies and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those that 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.