Authorities shut down sex-trafficking operation in Houston

Authorities shut down sex-trafficking operation in Houston

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A multi-million dollar sex-trafficking operation has been shut down in Houston.

Until now, they'd been operating for over a decade.

"There are evil people amongst us," said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Slavery is alive and well...and it's forcing women and girls into human trafficking, not just abroad, but in our own neighborhoods.

FBI Special Agent Steve Morris said, "Our task force has rescued 12 victims in the last two and a half years. Five of those victims from this modern day slave trade were children."

Federal, state and local officials have arrested 13 of 14 people who were indicted for their alleged roles in a Houston sex-trafficking operation.

Morris said, "45 year-old Alfonso Angel Diaz Juarez, a Mexican national...has been charged with this case and may be in Mexico or even in Houston still. There is a reward for up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of Diaz Juarez, also known as "Pancho."

The federal indictment names Hortencia Medeles-Arguello as the ringleader who owned and operated four bars in Houston where authorities say girls and women, smuggled in from Mexico, were forced into prostitution.

Some of the underage girls were between 14 and 17 years old.

"The age, although, it's really troubling, isn't surprising to me...the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 12 to 14 for boys and girls," said John Nehme, with Allies Against Slavery, a community based network that's trying to make Austin a slave-free city. "Nearly 83 percent of victims in confirmed sex-trafficking cases were actually U.S. citizens and that was from the Department of Justice between 2008 and 2010."

Not too far from where we did this interview, there was a human-trafficking bust in August 2012 at the La Quinta, on 11th Street.

Austin police found four women from Florida and Houston who were being held in drug-induced states and forced to walk 6th Street to find men willing to pay cash for sex.

"Downtown, Cedar Park, we've seen sex-trafficking cases that have involved prostitution, residential brothels, we've also seen labor trafficking cases in our city sweatshops, domestic servitude," said Nehme.

Nehme says last year, nearly one out of every 10 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline came from Texas.

The girls and women in Houston were sometimes beaten if they "did not keep the clients happy," the indictment said. Some were also told they weren't free to leave until they paid back money spent on them for clothing, food and rent.

"One of the biggest questions, for people who don't know a lot about this, is...If they're not physically restrained, somewhat like what we would think of as slavery 200 years ago, if they're not physically chained up, why don't they just leave?...papers are taken away, threats are made, we know where your family lives...that sort of scenario happens often," added Nehme.

In Central Texas, the statistics show a growing number of sex-trafficking cases.

It's just hard to tell if it's because the criminal activity is increasing or we're doing a better job of saving the victims.

Next week, the public is invited to a city-wide summit on real world solutions.

Events include guest speakers, breakout sessions and networking opportunities.

LINK:

www.freeaustin.org

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