McALLEN – Beleal Garcia-Gonzalez, 35, of Mission, has been sentenced to prison for sex trafficking of minors, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today along with Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) in San Antonio.
"We will not tolerate this modern-day slavery," said Moreno. "The full force of the law will be applied to those who victimize children and young adults."
At a hearing held Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane sentenced Garcia-Gonzalez to a total of 360 months in federal prison to be followed by a five-year-term of supervised release. Additionally, the court ordered that Garcia-Gonzalez forfeit his residence which he used to harbor the minors plus pay restitution to the minor females victimized by him. Garcia-Gonzalez was convicted on Sept. 23, 2010, following the return of a jury's verdicts finding him guilty of all three counts of sex trafficking alleged in the indictment as well as one count of conspiracy to harbor aliens and six counts of harboring aliens. Tuesday, Judge Crane sentenced Garcia-Gonzalez to 360 months on each of the three sex trafficking convictions, 120 months on the conspiracy to harbor aliens conviction and 120 months for each of the six harboring illegal aliens counts of conviction. All of the sentences are to be served concurrently.
"The court's sentence clearly reflects the seriousness of these awful sex trafficking crimes," said Robinette. "While we can't erase the pain and suffering these young women experienced, by aggressively investigating and prosecuting these cases, ICE-HSI, as well as our partners are sending a powerful warning about the consequences facing those responsible for such schemes."
During his September 2010 trial, the jury heard testimony from ICE-HSI special agents that upon receiving information that underage undocumented aliens were being forced to work and being prostituted at the El Paraeso Bar in Mission, Texas, an investigation was initiated which ultimately resulted in agents rescuing three female minors, ages 14, 15 and 17, working at the bar and being prostituted by Garcia-Gonzalez, the bar's owner.
The jury learned the three minors had been living with their family in Honduras when they were promised a job working at a restaurant making $700 a week in the United States. In court, the girls testified that the defendant spoke to their mother on the phone to make the arrangements. The minors were illegally smuggled into the United States expecting jobs only to find that they would be working at Garcia-Gonzalez bar making only $120 a week which would go towards paying the fees they owed Garcia-Gonzalez for being smuggled into the country - $4,500 each. Garcia-Gonzalez told the girls that they could make $3.00 for every beer that a customer bought them, but could make and keep any money they made having sex with customers minus $50 they would have to pay him.
The girls began working by selling and drinking beer with the customers but soon realized they were not making any money because Garcia-Gonzalez never paid them. Needing money, the girls turned to the only other option Garcia-Gonzalez had given them - prostitution.
Garcia-Gonzalez was charged along with several other co-defendants including Cesar Enrique Sarmiento-Mendoza, 33, of Honduras, who worked at the bar and would be left in charge of the bar when Garcia-Gonzalez was not there. Jenny Beatris Parada-Ponce, 27, of El Salvador, who was a prostitute herself and explained to the girls about prostitution among other things, were also sentenced Tuesday. Sarmeinto-Mendoza and Parada-Ponce each pleaded guilty to one count of sex trafficking prior to Garcia-Gonzalez's trial. Judge Crane sentenced Sarmiento-Mendoza to 84 months of imprisonment while Parada-Ponce was sentenced to 72 months.
Two others also charged as a result of this ICE-HSI investigation, Elizabeth Mendez-Vasquez, 23 of Mexico, and Maria Luisa Vasquez-Garcia, 21, of Mexico, were also charged and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens on Aug. 27, 2010. Mendez-Vasquez was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment Tuesday. Vasquez-Garcia is pending sentencing on Aug. 31, 2011.
The minor victims are all in foster care.
This matter was investigated by ICE-HSI as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA). The HTRA was formed by the United States Attorney's office in Houston as part of a broader effort by the Department of Justice to concentrate resources from its Civil Rights Division, our own office, federal, state law and local enforcement agencies and non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those victimized by the traffickers. The Houston HTRA was the 5th of 42 such formed organizations and the first of its kind in Texas. The mission of the HTRA is to foster the collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with area social service organizations to identify and assist the victims of human trafficking and to effectively identify, apprehend and prosecute those engaged in trafficking offenses.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kimberly Ann Leo with the assistance of Assistant United States Attorney Anibal Alaniz.