Woman pleads guilty to sex trafficking waitresses out of cantina she owned in east Houston

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Family forced waitresses at bar to perform sex acts, feds say
A Houston mom, her children and her nephew are now facing life in prison on sex trafficking charges.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A 56-year-old woman pleaded guilty to sex trafficking victims, including a minor, out of the backroom of the cantina she owned.

Maria Botello-Morales, who authorities said was living illegally in Houston, admitted to sex trafficking with force, fraud or coercion and conspiracy to do so as well as sex trafficking of a minor.

ABC13 reported on Botello-Morales in 2021, when allegations of her running the sex trafficking operation with her family came to light.

The victims included adults and at least one minor.

The crimes stretch back to 2007, when Botello-Morales recruited a girl from Mexico. Authorities said the woman caused the minor to engage in commercial sex and then took payment from the buyers.

From 2015 to 2020, Botello-Morales ran Puerto Alegre, a cantina in east Houston where several women were forced to engage in commercial sex in bathrooms built specifically for that purpose.

The victims said they started at the bar as waitresses, but things quickly turned when Botello-Morales told them they had to engage in commercial sex.

If the victims refused, the woman and others threatened them with violence.

Some victims said they even witnessed violence and weapons at the bar and in the back area where the sex crimes would occur.

The victims told investigators how they were given a condom wrapped in a paper towel, were to spend no longer than 15 minutes in a backroom with customers, and had to charge approximately $70. On the way out, they had to turn the money over to whoever was guarding the room. According to a complaint filed on March 30, 2021, Botello-Morales' son and nephew were the so-called "enforcers" who used weapons, threats and intimidation to keep the women compliant.

Another victim described that when she refused to go back to work, Botello-Morales sent someone to physically assault her.

Botello-Morales will be sentenced in June. She faces up to life in prison.

She'll remain in custody until that hearing.

The video above is from ABC13's previous reporting on Maria Botello-Morales, where her family was also accused in the sex trafficking operation.

SEE ALSO: Survivor talks on being 'groomed' as a teen for sex trafficking at school amid Texas' new law

As part of Houston-area school campuses introducing the new "No Trafficking Zone" law, a sex trafficking victim offers her story of being groomed while she was a teen.