HOUSTON (AP) — A sex-trafficking operation in Houston that made at least $12.6 million over more than a decade by using violence to force underage girls and women who are living in the United States illegally into prostitution has been shut down, authorities announced on Friday.
Federal, state and local officials have arrested 13 of 14 people who were indicted for their alleged roles in the operation. The 14th person indicted remains a fugitive, officials said.
The arrests took place Thursday night in a coordinated sweep of almost a dozen locations, including several bars.
Those indicted face charges that include sex trafficking conspiracy, conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The federal indictment unsealed Friday names Hortencia Medeles-Arguello as the ringleader who owned and operated the four bars in east and southeast Houston where authorities say the girls and women — who were from Mexico — were forced into prostitution. Authorities said the sex-trafficking operation was a family affair, as Medeles-Arguello's three daughters, brother, sister and niece also took part in the scheme and were indicted as well.
Medeles-Arguello, also known as Raquel Medeles Garcia, and others who worked for her would charge men anywhere from $65 to $500 to have sex with the girls and women in rooms located upstairs in the bars or sometimes in nearby hotels, according to the indictment.
The "minor and adult females were locked in an upstairs room" at one bar and were allowed to "come out of the locked room when a special client or big spender paid to have sex with one of them," the indictment said. Authorities say some of the underage girls were between 14 and 17 years old.
The girls and women were sometimes beaten by Medeles-Arguello and others if they "did not keep the clients happy," the indictment said.
Prosecutors allege in the indictment that the girls and women were often smuggled into the U.S. illegally by either Medeles-Arguello or by pimps, also known as "padrotes."
Some of the girls and women were told by Medeles-Arguello that they weren't free to leave until they paid her back money Medeles-Arguello had spent on them for clothing, food and rent, authorities said.
Authorities allege Medeles-Arguello would keep increasing the debt the girls and women allegedly owed, with one of the victims being told she owed $2,000 but then later being informed her debt had increased to $5,000.
Medeles-Arguello told this victim "and other minor and adult females locked in the room together that they were her property until they paid the money owed to her," according to the indictment.
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