Woman guilty of trafficking women in cantina backroom
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
HOUSTON – A 56-year-old woman who illegally resided in Houston has pleaded guilty to several sex trafficking crimes, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
Maria Botello-Morales admitted to sex trafficking with force, fraud or coercion and conspiracy to do so as well as sex trafficking of a minor.
“Sex trafficking takes many forms. Violators can be male or female, young or old.” Hamdani said. “Trafficking is as diverse as the population of this district, and we will work side by side with our partners and continue to root out this evil that is nothing less than a scourge on our society.”
Botello-Morales had recruited a minor female in 2007 from Mexico. Botello-Morales caused the minor to engage in commercial sex and took payment directly from the commercial sex buyers.
Botello-Morales also ran Puerto Algre from 2015 to 2020. Puerto Algre was a cantina where several females were forced to engage in commercial sex in backrooms built specifically for that purpose. Botello-Morales and others threatened and intimidated these victims with violence to manipulate them into engaging in commercial sex for her personal financial benefit.
The victims reported they had started at the bar as waitresses. However, Botello-Morales soon told them they had to engage in commercial sex. If they refused, she threatened them with violence.
Some witnessed violence and weapons at the bar and in the back area where the sex acts occurred. Each described how they had to take customers to the backrooms. They were given a condom wrapped in a paper towel, were to spend no more than 15 minutes in the room and charge approximately $70. On the way out, they had to turn the money over to whoever was guarding the room.
One victim also explained that when she refused to come to work, Botello-Morales sent someone to physically assault her.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen accepted the plea and set sentencing for June. At that time, Botello-Morales faces up to life in prison.
Botello-Morales has been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.
Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Houston Police Department (HPD) as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA). Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Zack is prosecuting the case.
HTRA law enforcement includes members of the HPD; FBI; HSI; Texas Attorney General’s Office; IRS-Criminal Investigation; Department of Labor (DOL); DOL – Wage and Hour Division; Department of State; Federal Air Marshals; TABC; Texas Department of Public Safety; Texas Rangers; Texas Parks and Wildlife; Social Security Administration – OIG; Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation; Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as well as police departments in Houston Independent School District (ISD), Conroe ISD and Missouri City; Harris County constables offices – Precincts one and four; sheriff’s offices in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Waller counties in coordination with District Attorney’s offices in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Galveston Counties. They work in coordination with victim service providers such as YMCA, United Against Human Trafficking and Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners.
Established in 2004, the United States 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.
Updated January 30, 2023