CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Women and girls as young as 16 were smuggled into this country from Mexico and brought to Charlotte to work as prostitutes. For $25 and $30, authorities said, they performed sex acts — sometimes with 20 men a day.
Jorge Flores Rojas, a 44-year-old undocumented Mexican national accused of running the sex trafficking ring, has been sentenced in Charlotte to 24 years in prison, authorities said Tuesday. He was ordered to pay $117,000 in restitution to one woman. He also must register as a sex offender.
Click to view image: 'Hooker pic'
Flores told federal agents he paid smugglers $2,500 apiece to bring some of the women from Mexico into the United States and deliver them to his apartment in Charlotte. He then forced the women to work as prostitutes in Charlotte; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Washington, D.C., court documents said.
Flores would drive the women to a hotel or to clients’ homes, where they would perform sex acts, according to court documents. The girls told authorities they made about $2,500 a week and split the money with Flores.
Authorities said one of the women testified at the sentencing Monday that Flores forced them to pray at a shrine to Santa Muerte (Saint of Death), a religious figure who receives prayers for luck and protection. Flores told her the saint protects him and would punish her if she ever tried to escape or report him.
Click to view image: 'Santa Muerte'
Flores’ attorney, Lucky Osho, said his client has been wrongly characterized as a kingpin of an elaborate scheme to bring women from Latin America.
Flores plans to appeal the sentence. He doesn’t deny what he did was illegal, Osho said, but feels the length of the sentence is unfair.
“Someone who kills, someone driving drunk on the highway — he doesn’t get 24 years,” Osho said Tuesday. “The punishment should be proportionate to the crime.”
Flores pleaded guilty in October to two counts of sex trafficking of minors and one count of transporting an adult across state lines for sex.
Federal prosecutors accused him of trafficking a 16-year-old girl between the District of Columbia and Charlotte to engage in sex. He forced the victim, an undocumented Honduran national, to go to Charlotte with him.
According to testimony, “the defendant repeatedly sexually and physically abused her in order to force her to perform commercial sex acts,” the U.S. Justice Department said in announcing Flores’ sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenny Smith said all of the women controlled by Flores came from Spanish-speaking countries, primarily from Mexico. He said Flores kept the women in his apartment, and though he didn’t lock them up, they were afraid to flee.
“The women were terrified of him,” Smith said. “They were in this country illegally, didn’t speak English and didn’t know anybody. They were afraid to go to the police.”
In 2006, law enforcement authorities told the Charlotte Observer that Hispanic women were brought in and out of Charlotte every week to work at brothels connected to sex-trafficking rings on the East Coast.
At night, men lined up outside the houses to wait their turn with young Latino women held as sex slaves. A typical session lasted 15 minutes and cost each customer about $30, undercover officers said. Some women had sex with dozens of men a night.
Authorities said dozens of such rings were operating in the region.
In February, Franklin Yasir Mejia-Macedo was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a sex trafficking ring that also reached from Charlotte to Washington, D.C. According to court documents, Mejia was prostituting young women from Mexico and Honduras. They promoted their business by passing out business cards for services such as “Flowers Home Delivery” and “Hair Cuts for Men Only.”
The trafficking rings grow out of the Carolinas’ influx of illegal immigrants.
More than 390,000 immigrants are estimated to live illegally in North Carolina. Many are men who left their wives and families to find work in the U.S.
To keep a constant cycle of prostitutes in Charlotte, traffickers exchange the women with other pimps and handlers in cities such as Raleigh and Greensboro, often for as little as $130 each, authorities said. The women are moved so frequently that some no longer know what city they’re in.
Most of the women are in the country illegally and are reluctant to report the crimes. Often locked in rooms with few clothes and no telephone, they fear being beaten if they try to escape.
At one Charlotte brothel, shut down in 2004, customers paid a house manager who would give them a ticket, a playing card or a bead. The men then gave those items to women inside as proof of payment.
According to police, brothel operators usually kept half of the fees, giving the women the other half, which often went to pay off debts owed for helping them get into the country.
John Price, a special agent with the FBI in Charlotte, said traffickers send recruiters to Latin American countries looking for vulnerable girls seeking a better life. The recruiter offers the girls an attractive price to smuggle them to the United States and then find them a job to pay off their debt for getting them into the country.
“They sell them on a false bill of goods and make these false promises and get them up here. And when they’re up here and under the control of the trafficker, who the victim is wholly dependent on at that point, the stakes of the game change.”
Thousands of victims are trafficked yearly into the United States. They are also forced to work in factories, migrant farms, construction and domestic work.
Most victims in Charlotte come from Central and South America, but some come from Asia and Eastern Europe.
After Flores completes his 24-year prison term, he will be deported, authorities said.
In sentencing Flores on Monday, U.S. District Judge Bob Conrad noted the defendant’s “predatory acts against young women” and called his conduct “reprehensible and heinous.”
The judge ordered Flores to pay one of the victims $117,000 in restitution to pay for psychological counseling and therapy that she has received and will need in the future.
The victim testified she suffered abuse and has nightmares and migraine headaches, authorities said.
Smith, who helped prosecute Flores, asked for the public’s help in finding similar prostitution rings.
“This man brutalized these women and scarred them for life,” Smith said. “We want to help protect victims of sex trafficking.”
Tags: CHARLOTTE, N.C., Women and girls, smuggled into this country from Mexico, performed sex acts, For $25 and $30, sometimes with 20 men a day
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina, United States (load item map)
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