A 21-count indictment was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charging seven defendants with sex trafficking, conspiracy and related offenses. The indictment, which was returned under seal on Sept. 15, 2016, alleges that the defendants are members of an international sex trafficking organization which operated in Mexico and the United States between 2000 and 2016. Fourteen victims of the charged sex trafficking organization are identified in the indictment.
Six of the defendants charged were taken into custody on Oct. 26 and 27, 2016. As part of a coordinated bilateral law enforcement action, Raul Romero-Granados, aka Chicarcas and El Negro, 32, and Isaac Lomeli-Rivera, aka Giro, 34, were arrested in the United States. Efrain Granados-Corona, aka Chavito and Cepillo, 41; Alan Romero-Granados, aka El Flaco, 24; Pedro Rojas-Romero, 37, and Emilio Rojas-Romero, 34, were arrested in Mexico. Juan Romero-Granados, aka Chegoya and El Guero, remains a fugitive. The defendants arrested in Mexico were taken into custody by Mexican authorities pursuant to provisional arrest warrants submitted by the United States in August 2016. The defendants arrested in the United States were presented on Oct. 27, 2016, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox of the Southern District of New York, and appeared today before U.S. District Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr. of the Southern District of New York.
The charges were announced today by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York, Director Sarah R. Saldaña of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and Special Agent in Charge Angel M. Melendez of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York.
“Human trafficking is a corrosive and degrading practice that goes against both the rule of law and the most basic standards of human dignity,” said Attorney General Lynch. “This indictment is yet another sign of the Justice Department’s steadfast determination to hold traffickers accountable for their heinous crimes, and of our unshakeable commitment to helping survivors reclaim their futures and restart their lives. I want to commend our partners in Mexican law enforcement for their commitment to combating human trafficking. We thank them for their cooperation in this important action, and for their ongoing collaboration in our shared efforts to end human trafficking in our nations.”
“The indictment outlines alleged conduct of these defendants that is brutal and predatory,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “The defendants allegedly raped, beat, tortured, and enslaved their victims, often minors who were coercively separated from their families. The combined efforts of American and Mexican law enforcement that made these charges possible reflect our joint commitment to protect victims of these most predatory crimes that treat human beings as chattel.”
“The sexual exploitation of human beings is one of the vilest crimes committed against humanity,” said Director Saldaña. “This operation reflects our commitment to bring to justice traffickers who have no regard for human life. Each arrest is a testament to the outstanding bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States. We are sending a clear message to human traffickers that law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border have them in their sights.”
“Through vigorous enforcement efforts and collaborative international partnerships, the Justice Department works tirelessly to bring traffickers to justice and protect victims held in modern-day slavery,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “Human traffickers degrade the humanity of the vulnerable victims they target. I commend our Mexican counterparts for their dedication to fighting the heinous crime of human trafficking, their sustained collaboration in advancing bilateral enforcement efforts and their critical role in this case.”
“Human trafficking is nothing less than a modern form of slavery and no one should be forced to live in a world of fear and involuntary servitude,” said Special Agent in Charge Melendez. “HSI will remain steadfast in its commitment to working with its law enforcement partners to dismantle the international criminal organizations involved in human trafficking.”
As alleged in the superseding indictment unsealed on October 27, 2016 in federal court in Manhattan:
Efrain Granados-Corona, Raul Romero-Granados, Isaac Lomeli-Rivera, Juan Romero-Granados, Alan Romero-Granados, Pedro Rojas-Romero and Emilio Rojas-Romero are members of an international sex trafficking organization known as the STO. Many of the members of the STO are relatives. Efrain Granados-Corona is the uncle of Raul Romero-Granados, Isaac Lomeli-Rivera (through his relationship with Granados-Corona’s niece), Juan Romero-Granados and Alan Romero-Granados. Pedro and Emilio Rojas-Romero are brothers, as are Juan and Alan Romero-Granados. Isaac Lomeli-Rivera is Raul Romero-Granados’s brother-in-law.
Between at least 2000 and the present, members of the STO used romantic promises, physical and sexual violence, threats, lies and coercion to force and coerce adult and minor women to work in prostitution in both Mexico and the United States.
The trafficking organization used a similar approach in many cases. Often, a member of the STO would become romantically involved with a victim – frequently a minor – in Mexico. The trafficker would then uses multiple means to isolate the victim from her family. In some cases, the trafficker would use romantic promises to induce the victim to leave her family and live with him. In other cases, the trafficker would rape the victim, making it difficult for her to return to her family due to the associated stigma of the rape. Once a victim was separated from her family, the trafficker would frequently monitor her communications, keep her locked in an apartment, leave her without food and physically or sexually abuse the victim. The traffickers often told victims that the traffickers owed a significant debt and that the victim needs to work in prostitution to assist in repaying the debt. The traffickers typically begin forcing the victims to work in prostitution in Mexico, frequently in a neighborhood of Mexico City known as “La Merced.” Victims would often be required to see at least 20 to 40 customers per day. Traffickers would monitor the number of clients a victim sees by surveilling her, communicating with brothel workers and by counting the number of condoms provided to a victim. Traffickers typically would require the victims to turn over all of the prostitution proceeds.
After a victim worked in prostitution in Mexico for some time, the traffickers typically would arrange for the victim to be smuggled into the United States. Members of the STO often assisted one another in making smuggling arrangements. In many cases, multiple traffickers and multiple victims would be smuggled into the United States together. In other cases, one trafficker may remain in Mexico while arranging for a victim to be smuggled together with another trafficker and other victims.
Once in the United States, the members of the STO generally maintained their victims at one of several shared apartments in New York City. Victims living in the same apartment would frequently be forbidden to communicate with one another. Once in the United States, traffickers would continue to use physical and sexual violence, threats of the same, lies and coercion to force the victims to work in prostitution.
In most cases, the trafficker or another member of the STO would provide a victim with contact information with which to find work. The victims typically work weeklong shifts either in a brothel or in a “delivery service.” In a delivery service, the victim would be delivered to a customer’s home by a “driver.” These brothels and delivery services are located both within New York, and in surrounding states, including, but not limited to Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.
Generally, each customer paid $30 to $35 for 15 minutes of sex. Of that, half of the money typically went to the driver (in the case of a delivery service) or to the brothel. The other $15 went to the victim, who was then typically forced to give all of the proceeds to the trafficker or to another member of the STO.
The traffickers then frequently sent, or had their victims send, some of the prostitution proceeds to traffickers’ family members and associates in Mexico by wire transfer. Such transfers provide financial assistance to the traffickers’ families and financial support to the traffickers themselves if they return to Mexico.
Since 2009, the Department of Justice, through the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and the Department of Homeland Security through HSI have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts in a Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative aimed at strengthening high-impact prosecutions under both U.S. and Mexican law. The initiative is aimed at dismantling human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing human traffickers to justice, reuniting victims with their children and restoring the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims held under the trafficking networks’ control. These efforts have resulted in successful prosecutions in both Mexico and the United States, including U.S. federal prosecutions of over 50 defendants in multiple cases in New York, Georgia, Florida and Texas since 2009, and numerous Mexican federal and state prosecutions of associated sex traffickers.
On June 23, 2016, Attorney General Lynch announced the extradition to the United States of five defendants apprehended in Mexico through a prior bilateral human trafficking enforcement action that resulted in the arrests of eight defendants charged in a 27-count indictment in the Eastern District of New York with operating an international sex trafficking enterprise. In announcing the charges unsealed on October 27, 2016, the Attorney General commended U.S. and Mexican law enforcement partners for their shared commitment to sustaining the momentum of these coordinated bilateral anti-trafficking efforts.
The charges in the indictment are merely allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
All seven defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, which has a maximum sentence of life in prison. Raul Romero-Granados and Efrain Granados-Corona were each charged with two counts of sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud or coercion, which also carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Emilio Rojas-Romero, Pedro Rojas-Romero and Isaac Lomeli-Rivera were charged with two counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and Efrain Granados-Corona, Raul Romero-Granados, Juan and Alan Romero-Granados were charged with one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, which also carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Raul Romero-Granados was charged with two counts of transportation of a minor for purposes of prostitution and Efrain Granados-Corona was charged with one count of transportation of a minor for purposes of prostitution, which also carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Isaac Lomeli-Rivera was charged with two counts of transportation for the purposes of prostitution and Efrain Granados-Corona, Juan Romero-Granados, Alan Romero-Granados, Pedro Rojas-Romero and Emilio Rojas-Romero were charged with one count of transportation for purposes of prostitution. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In announcing the indictment, Attorney General Lynch, U.S. Attorney Bharara, Director Saldaña and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta commended the HSI’s New York Office, the HSI Mexico Attaché Office, the State Department and the New York City Police Department for their assistance, and praised the government of Mexico for its role in this bilateral enforcement action. The Justice Department also acknowledged the non-governmental victim service providers and advocates for their dedicated efforts to restore and improve the lives of survivors of trafficking and their families in connection with this case and others.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristy J. Greenberg, Jane Kim and Rebecca G. Mermelstein of the Southern District of New York with the support of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.