Undocumented females were allegedly forced to have sex and it was all for profit. Now, several suspects are in federal custody.
An indictment alleges this sex slavery operation has been running since 1999. In that time, officials say more than $12 million is estimated to have passed through the hands of the accused as young women and children from Mexico were brought here and abused.
"I think most of you will agree that nowhere in the world, especially right here in Houston, in our United States, should any human being be trafficked for profit or used as a reusable commodity," said FBI special agent in charge Stephen Morris.
Investigators say 21 women and girls were rescued Thursday night at ten different locations. Some were as young as just 14 and 15 years old. Most were at a bar which investigators say was also a brothel.
Federal agents say they were smuggled here from Mexico with the promise of a better life, but then they were forced into sex slavery. They were reportedly kept in locked rooms upstairs and beaten if they did not perform to a customer's satisfaction.
According to a 38-page federal indictment, "...this beating would happen to each of them if one of them did not keep the clients happy."
Some were told they owed a debt to those who brought them here, that they must repay thousands of dollars before they would be released. Some were threatened with never seeing their children again.
Authorities say clients were told the girls were between 14 and 17 years old.
Those living near the location just off Telephone Road say they have suspected for some time something awful was going on. Why else, they say, would you see condom wrappers so often in the parking lot.
One woman, who doesn't want to be identified, says she has even reported it to police.
"I called several times and no one has done nothing till now," she said.
In all, 14 defendants now face sex trafficking, money laundering and other charges. The FBI is still looking for one more man, Alfonso Juarez. He's accused of being one of the pimps.
Meanwhile, Maxine Rodriguez, who is related to eight of the defendants, says they are innocent.
"It's hard. You can't do nothing, you can't even talk to them. I have 2 kids I have to support," Rodriguez said.
Neighbors are relieved to see the arrests made.
"I'm glad that somebody is coming in to help the girls that nobody else has been helping. It's an international problem, and to find it in the neighborhood where I teach little girls is very stressful for me," neighbor Stacey Peterson said.
If you know where Juarez may be, a reward is being offered for information that leads to his arrest.
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