Monday, November 24, 2008

South Florida prostitution ring busted, feds say,0,3411650.story

By John Holland and Luis F. Perez

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
November 22, 2008

They spent the hours between the beatings and threats and forced sexual encounters cloaked in suburbia, stashed invisibly in quiet family homes.

Now they are free, and the ring of smugglers who prosecutors say kidnapped them in Mexico and shuttled them to brothels across South Florida to service as many as 100 clients per week are behind bars.

Federal agents this week charged five people with operating a prostitution gang that targeted girls as young as 14, smuggled them across the border and forced them into a "modern day form of slavery," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Arturo Rojas-Gonzalez, Timoteo Reyes-Perez, Rosalio Valdez, Fidel Gonzalez and Elodia Capilla Diego are being held without bond on charges of federal sex trafficking. They will be back in court next week; the investigation is continuing.

The arrest affidavits outline the victims' lives spent bouncing between homes and brothels in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Homestead, Miami and elsewhere, always watched over by vicious handlers. At least one was held captive for nine years.

According to the affidavits:

The women collected $25 per encounter. Nearly all of the money went to their pimps. Some called the men their husbands, but all said they lived in constant fear that they or their families back home would be harmed.

The plot began unraveling in January when a victim started cooperating with law enforcement agents. From then until this week, investigators talked to more victims and tracked the smugglers.

The first woman to come forward had been kidnapped in Mexico in 1999, smuggled through Arizona and wound up on the streets of New York.

"She had no freedom of movement whatsoever, and was closely watched by her husband and his associates," Immigration & Customs Enforcement agent Mildred Laboy wrote in the criminal complaint. "She attempted to escape several times, but was unsuccessful and severely beaten for her attempts. She also attempted to take her life on numerous occasions."

Eventually she was ushered to South Florida, joining an organized and elaborate network of "stash houses" where the women were kept. Often, the cover included families, some with children, living in the same house. The women were imprisoned there until they were shipped out to spend up to a week in various brothels, a 15-year-old girl told investigators.

On June 23, law enforcement officers stopped a van carrying three of the women near Naples.

"All three women had small notebooks containing phone numbers and dates," the affidavit said, along with "tallies indicating how many customers they had seen on the particular date."

Officers let the group go, but federal agents installed a global positioning system tracker on the van. Investigators traced it to a Homestead home where the teenager lived and to "some of the brothels that Victim 2 has identified."

On Wednesday, agents searched a home occupied by Valdez, "who matched the descriptions of the pimp running the locations," agents wrote.

They found passports and luggage belonging to the victims, along with $2,000 in cash. Inside Valdez' car agents found "20-50 condoms and a commercial size bottle of lubricant."

With the first batch of arrests complete, prosecutors Friday released a statement that served as a reminder of the dangers the women faced: the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office had been brought into the investigation, because of fears that the beatings could turn into murder.

John Holland can be reached at or at 954-385-7909.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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