Amanda Berry escaped to a neighbor’s house and made that call earlier this month. The two other women that were held at the property were Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight who were grabbed after the seizure of Miss Berry.
As this tale of misery continues to unfold and dominate the National headlines Berry’s disappearance was a National story in itself after she disappeared 10 years ago.
As hard as it is to believe that these women could be successfully held captive for such an extended period of time, similar stories come to light every day throughout the United States.
Mirroring the Amanda Berry story, a great amount of women are abducted and held captive for months and sometimes many years. A substantial amount of them are led into a life of prostitution by their kidnappers.
At about the same time that the three women and one child were emancipated from their captor in Cleveland, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were making arrests.
The ICE Homeland Security Investigations directorate is an Agency that is in authority of investigating a wide array of domestic and international actions arising from the illegal movement of people and merchandise into, within, and out of the country.
Last month, they issued search warrants for four brothels in Queens and Yonkers and as far north as upstate Poughkeepsie and Newburgh. By way of these warrants, nine men from Queens were taken into custody. Three other targets of the warrants were found to already be incarcerated on unrelated charges and one of the suspects remains at large. They were charged in an alleged sex trafficking and prostitution ring which was said to have been shaped as early as 2008. Victims in the case were not physically abducted per se, but the commonality to the Cleveland case is that some of them were held by their captors’ for vast periods of time.
Most of the victims were lured from Tenancingo, Mexico by men who enticed them with promises of romance and/or assurances of a better life in the United States.
“The members of this alleged sex trafficking and prostitution ring lured their unsuspecting victims to the United States and then consigned them to a living hell – forcing them to become sex slaves living in abhorrent conditions, and using threats, verbal abuse, and violence – sexual and otherwise – when they resisted and even sometimes when they didn’t,” said U.S. attorney Preet Bharara in a recent statement.
Labeled as the “world capital of sex trafficking” by U.S. government authorities, the rural region of Tenancingo, Mexico appears to spawn a remarkable amount of sex traffickers that have been arrested by ICE agents in New York City and its outlying areas. Tenancingo, a town of approximately 10,000 people is located within 80 miles of its Capital; Mexico City and has earned the aforesaid reprehensible distinction due to the many arrests made in New York and other parts of the country during the last decade.
The sex trafficking route from Tenancingo that once led straight to Jackson Heights has expanded far outside the city limits, a thorough Daily News investigation illustrates.
The recent indictment of brothers Isaias and Bonifacio Flores-Mendez; by law enforcement shows exactly how far the venomous Queens-based crews have expanded.
They operate covert brothels in homes located in the Hudson Valley and improvised houses of ill-reputed on New Jersey farms, bullying girlfriends and even their wives into lives of prostitution.
“We see here that they have moved (farther) out,” said ICE Special Agent in Charge James Hayes after the upstate raid at the end of April. “It seems like the word is getting out that we’re cracking down in the New York City area.”
Since last October, 33 arrests relating to sex-trafficking have been achieved in New York all of them dealing with suspects from the town of Tenancingo.
One of the victims that the Daily News is only calling “Ana” in the attempt to protect her actual identity spoke about the life she was forced to live saying “Some weekends, I would just have to try to stand it. Drunks, insults. Sometimes on a weekend it would be 30, 40 a night. And you would have to keep going,” She was led to farms, brothels or “delivery service” setups on Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and as far away as Maryland. In most cases the leaders of the sex ring would keep all of her earnings.
In a telephone conversation that was recorded by law enforcement, Carlos Garcia-de la Rosa, one of the drivers for the Flores-Mendez’s organization was heard asking a 14-year old girl to have naked pictures of herself taken and then texted to him. He was charged with child pornography according to court papers.
Another one of their drivers David Vasquez-Medina forced his girlfriend to turn tricks working against her will for over two years with Vasquez-Medina reaping all the benefits of her labors as also indicated in the court documents.
Also, according to court papers, another alleged victim was brought to Queens from Mexico along with her child. She was recruited into the Flores-Mendez’s organization of prostitution and severely beaten when she refused to go along with their plans for her. She slept in the kitchen, under the table of her torturer’s 112th St. home.
In the end, she wound up giving in and then having sex with more than 20 men daily also turning over all of her earnings to the Flores-Mendez gang. During the course of her exploits she became pregnant. She was then forced to take the drug Cytotec for the purpose of causing a miscarriage, according to court papers.
“After periods of victimization – typically months or years – many victims manage to escape,” the complaint reads. It goes on further to say “Without legal status in the United States, without family or friends for support, without employment opportunities, and as a result of the trauma they have suffered, victims sometimes return to prostitution.”
Ten of the women who had been forced into the illicit operation were able to approach law enforcement and were rescued over numerous years, according to ICE.
ICE Special agent in charge James Hayes said on the day of the arrests: ‘The arrests today move the United States closer to blockading the repugnant sex trafficking corridor that organizations like the one allegedly operated by Isaias Flores-Mendez and his cohorts use to smuggle innocent victims between Tenancingo, Mexico and New York City.”
‘With their arrests today, the barbaric conduct in which these defendants allegedly engaged in order to make a profit has now been put to a stop, and they will be prosecuted for their alleged crimes and the women they enslaved will be able to put their lives back together” as stated by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
To read the shocking statistics dealing with human trafficking in the United States, click here.
Human trafficking can be prosecuted in the State of its occurrence or on a Federal level. The penalties of a conviction of this offense can vary from up to 25 years in prison as well as fines that can exceed 1 million dollars. The penalty of a conviction can also vary dependent on whether it is tried in State or Federal Court. Currently, there is a bill to strengthen the trafficking law and its penalties that has been introduced in both houses of the legislature and is backed by the New York State Public Affairs Committee of The Junior League.
If you or someone you know is accused of this crime it is critical that you get in touch with an experienced attorney who has familiarity is this type of crime to make sure that your rights are defended properly.
Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer who has tried a multitude of cases of this type throughout his 35+ year career. To read about Mr. Cohen honors and qualifications, please click here.