Federal investigation cracks down on sex trafficking of minors in Houston

Lileana Pearson Image
Friday, June 9, 2023
3 men accused of trafficking teen girls into prostitution
Three men were arrested for allegedly trafficking young girls. Documents focus on pictures, texts, and DM between the suspects and victims.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Houston ISD student escaped being sex trafficked after going to her school for help.

This information comes from a federal investigation that details nine men and women charged with sex trafficking adults and minors along Bissonnet Street in an area commonly referred to as "The Blade."

The federal criminal complaint focuses on pictures, texts, and direct messages between three pimps and three girls, between the ages of 14 and 16, as evidence that the men were instructing them on what to do, when, and where. The men at the center of the investigation are Damarquis McGee, Javon Yaw Opoku, and Andre Serrano Portillo. Opoku pleaded guilty on Wednesday to trafficking the 15-year-old.

"It is sad to say that here in Harris County, we have a big problem with minors being trafficked sexually," Dak Cohen, the Harris County assistant district attorney with the DA's Human Trafficking and Exploitation Division, said.

Cohen said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, sex trafficking of minors ballooned, and once a young person is swept into that world, it's hard to get out.

"When you have a younger mind, it's easier to mold, shape and influence them. They are more moldable to violence," Cohen said.

Investigators said these girls were beaten by their pimps if they seemed out of line, and most of their earnings went into their alleged abusers' pockets. One of the girls is even reported to have her abuser's name tattooed above her eye.

Law enforcement agencies often tout their large-scale prostitution stings, where they arrest both alleged prostitutes and their pimps. ABC13 also covered stories where young girls are victims of human trafficking. We wanted to know how the DA's office determines who is a victim and who they put in handcuffs.

Cohen said oftentimes, men and women who are found selling themselves for sexual acts will face a misdemeanor prostitution charge even though they are victims themselves.

"Our program here under DA (Kim) Ogg is what we call Project 180, which those individuals will do a forensic interview; we don't force them to say anything. We just see what they have to say, and hopefully, we can get information that can let us go after them in that put them in this situation," Cohen said.

Taking part in these interviews at the district level can get the misdemeanor erased.

Victims can face harsher charges if they start helping recruit other victims and participate in the abuse that prevents people from seeking help.

"What we sometimes see is the seller or prostitute have been so controlled, and their minds have been so warped by the pimp that they become involved in the enterprise," Cohen said.

Anyone seeking help can visit th Project 180,Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center , or National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website.

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