Sunday, November 6, 2016

Indictment Of Seven Individuals And Six Arrests In The United States And Mexico On International Sex Trafficking Charges

   Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Sarah R. Saldaña, Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced the unsealing of a 21-count superseding indictment (the “Indictment”) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charging seven defendants with sex trafficking offenses.  The Indictment, which was returned under seal on September 15, 2016, alleges that the defendants are members of an international sex trafficking organization that exploited and trafficked adult and minor women in Mexico and in the United States from at least 2000 to 2016.  Members of the defendants’ sex trafficking organization, which operated largely as a family business, used false promises, physical and sexual violence, and threats to force and coerce adult and minor women to work in prostitution for the organization’s profit in both Mexico and the United States. 
Six of the defendants charged were taken into custody on October 26 and 27, 2016.  As part of a coordinated bilateral law enforcement action, two defendants, RAUL ROMERO-GRANADOS, a/k/a “Chicarcas,” a/k/a “El Negro,” and ISAAC LOMELI-RIVERA, a/k/a “Giro,” were arrested in the United States, and four defendants, EFRAIN GRANADOS-CORONA, a/k/a “Chavito,” a/k/a “Cepillo,” ALAN ROMERO-GRANADOS, a/k/a “El Flaco,” PEDRO ROJAS-ROMERO, and EMILIO ROJAS-ROMERO, were arrested in Mexico.  The defendants arrested in Mexico were taken into custody by Mexican authorities pursuant to Provisional Arrest Warrants submitted by the United States in August 2016.  The defendants arrested in the United States were presented on October 27, 2016, in Manhattan federal court before United States Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox.  One defendant, JUAN ROMERO-GRANADOS, a/k/a “Chegoya,” a/k/a “El Guero,” remains a fugitive.  The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr.  
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “The Indictment outlines alleged conduct of these defendants that is brutal and predatory.  The defendants allegedly raped, beat, tortured, and enslaved their victims, often minors who were coercively separated from their families.  The combined efforts of American and Mexican law enforcement that made these charges possible reflect our joint commitment to protect victims of these most predatory crimes that treat human beings as chattel.”
ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña said:  “The sexual exploitation of human beings is one of the vilest crimes committed against humanity.  This operation reflects our commitment to bring to justice traffickers who have no regard for human life.  Each arrest is a testament to the outstanding bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States.  We are sending a clear message to human traffickers that law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border have them in their sights.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said:  “Through vigorous enforcement efforts and collaborative international partnerships, the Justice Department works tirelessly to bring traffickers to justice and protect victims held in modern-day slavery.  Human traffickers degrade the humanity of the vulnerable victims they target.  I commend our Mexican counterparts for their dedication to fighting the heinous crime of human trafficking and their critical assistance in this case.”
HSI Special Agent in Charge Angel M. Melendez said:  “Human trafficking is nothing less than a modern form of slavery and no one should be forced to live in a world of fear and involuntary servitude. HSI will remain steadfast in its commitment to working with its law enforcement partners to dismantle the international criminal organizations involved in human trafficking.”
As alleged in the Indictment unsealed on October 27, 2016, in Manhattan federal court:[1] 
EFRAIN GRANADOS-CORONA, a/k/a “Chavito,” a/k/a “Cepillo,” RAUL ROMERO-GRANADOS, a/k/a “Chicarcas,” a/k/a “El Negro,” ISAAC LOMELI-RIVERA, a/k/a “Giro,” JUAN ROMERO-GRANADOS, a/k/a “Chegoya,” a/k/a “El Guero,” ALAN ROMERO-GRANADOS, a/k/a “El Flaco,” PEDRO ROJAS-ROMERO, and EMILIO ROJAS-ROMERO, the defendants, are members of an international sex trafficking organization (the “STO”).  Many of the members of the STO are related by blood, marriage and community.  For example:  EFRAIN GRANADOS-CORONA is the uncle of RAUL ROMERO-GRANADOS, ISAAC LOMELI-RIVERA (through LOMELI-RIVERA’s relationship with EFRAIN GRANADOS-CORONA’s niece), JUAN ROMERO-GRANADOS, and ALAN ROMERO-GRANADOS; PEDRO ROJAS-ROMERO and EMILIO ROJAS-ROMERO are brothers; JUAN ROMERO-GRANADOS and ALAN ROMERO-GRANADOS are also brothers; and ISAAC LOMELI-RIVERA is RAUL ROMERO-GRANADOS’s brother-in-law.
Between at least in or about 2000 and the present, members of the STO (the “Traffickers”) have used false romantic promises, physical and sexual violence, threats of the same, lies, and coercion to force and coerce adult and minor women (the “Victims”) to work in prostitution in both Mexico and the United States.
In most cases, a Trafficker entices a Victim – frequently a minor – in Mexico.  The Trafficker then uses multiple means to isolate the Victim from her family.  In some cases, the Trafficker uses romantic promises to induce the Victim to leave her family and live with him.  In other cases, the Trafficker rapes the Victim, making it difficult for her to return to her family due to the associated stigma of the rape.  Once a Victim is separated from her family, the Trafficker frequently monitors her communications, keeps her locked in an apartment, leaves her without food, and engages in physical or sexual violence against the Victim.  Traffickers often tell Victims that the Traffickers owe a significant debt and that the Victim must work in prostitution to assist in repaying the debt.  Traffickers typically begin forcing the Victims to work in prostitution in Mexico, frequently in a neighborhood of Mexico City known as “La Merced.”   Victims are often required to see at least 20 to 40 customers per day.  Traffickers monitor the number of clients a Victim sees by surveilling the Victim, communicating with brothel workers, and by counting the number of condoms provided to a Victim.  Traffickers typically require the Victims to turn over all of the prostitution proceeds to the Traffickers. 
After a Victim has worked in prostitution in Mexico for some time, Traffickers typically arrange for the Victim to be smuggled into the United States.  Members of the STO assist one another in making smuggling arrangements.  In many cases, multiple Traffickers and multiple Victims are smuggled into the United States together.  In other cases, one Trafficker may remain in Mexico while arranging for a Victim to be smuggled together with another Trafficker and other Victims.
Once in the United States, the members of the STO generally maintain their Victims at one of several shared apartments in New York City.  Victims living in the same apartment are frequently forbidden to communicate with one another.  Once in the United States, Traffickers continue to use physical and sexual violence, threats of the same, lies, and coercion to force the Victims to work in prostitution. 
In most cases, the Trafficker or another member of the STO provides a Victim with contact information with which to find work.  The Victims typically work weeklong shifts either in a brothel, or in a “delivery service.”  In a delivery service, the Victim is delivered to a customer’s home by a “driver.”  These brothels and delivery services are located both within New York, and in surrounding states, including, but not limited to Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Generally, each customer pays $30-35 for 15 minutes of sex.  Of that, half of the money typically goes to the driver (in the case of a delivery service) or to the brothel.  The other $15 goes to the Victim, who is then typically forced to give all of the proceeds to the Trafficker.  When a Trafficker is unavailable, a Victim may also give the proceeds to another member of the STO.
The Traffickers then frequently send, or have their Victims send, some of the prostitution proceeds to Traffickers’ family members and associates in Mexico by wire transfer.  Such transfers provide financial assistance to the Traffickers’ families and provide financial support to the Traffickers themselves if they return to Mexico.               
Since 2009, the Department of Justice and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts in a Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative aimed at strengthening high-impact prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law.  The initiative is aimed at dismantling human trafficking networks operating across the United States-Mexico border, bringing human traffickers to justice, reuniting victims with their children, and restoring the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims held under the trafficking networks’ control.  These efforts have resulted in successful prosecutions in both Mexico and the United States, including U.S. federal prosecutions of over 50 defendants in multiple cases in New York, Georgia, Florida, and Texas since 2009, and numerous Mexican federal and state prosecutions of associated sex traffickers.  In announcing the unsealed charges, Attorney General Lynch commended U.S. and Mexican law enforcement partners for their shared and continued commitment to coordinated bilateral anti-trafficking efforts.
Attorney General Lynch and U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of HSI, the work of the Mexican government and Mexican law enforcement in executing the arrests and preparing for the extradition of the defendants to the United States, and the assistance provided by the New York City Police Department, the State Department, the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.  The Justice Department also acknowledged the non-governmental victim service providers and advocates for their dedicated efforts to restore and improve the lives of survivors of trafficking and their families in connection with this case and others.
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The prosecution is being handled by the Violent and Organized Crime Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristy J. Greenberg, Jane Kim, and Rebecca G. Mermelstein are in charge of the prosecution.
United States v. Efrain Granados-Corona, a/k/a “Chavito,” a/k/a “Cepillo,” et al.,

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