Five members of a family-run sex trafficking operation smuggled young Mexican women and girls to New York City and forced them into prostitution. Several girls were 14 years old.
Last week, all five received prison sentences of 20 to 39 years for sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, sex trafficking of minors, interstate prostitution, alien smuggling, and money laundering conspiracy, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
A sixth co-defendant is awaiting sentencing.
The original complaint, filed on July 11, 2017, by a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officer, said the investigation into the Melendez-Rojas family was opened in 2014.
“Jane Doe 1” met Francisco Melendez-Perez in Tecamachalco, Mexico, and moved in with him two weeks later, at age 14. In July 2010, Melendez-Perez told her they were moving to the United States for work and he hired smugglers to take them, as well as his aunt.
Arizona Border Patrol agents apprehended them twice, days apart, for illegally entering the country and returned them to Mexico. At the end of October 2010, they successfully avoided Border Patrol and were smuggled to New York City.
Melendez-Perez told his aunt to use a different name and date of birth for “Jane Doe 1” to make it appear as if she wasn’t a minor.
Once they arrived at Melendez-Perez’s aunt and uncle’s house in the Queens borough of New York, “Jane Doe 1” was told she had to work as a prostitute.
“Jane Doe 1 initially refused to work as a prostitute, but Francisco repeatedly told her that she did not speak English or have any papers that allowed her to work. Francisco also threatened Jane Doe 1 that if she ran away she would be arrested and deported. Feeling that she had no other choice, Jane Doe thereafter began to work as a prostitute,” the complaint states.
“Francisco also threatened to kill her family if she stopped working as a prostitute.”
The girl was never allowed to leave the Queens residence by herself or be alone there, according to the court documents. However, she managed to run away in April 2014 and rented a room in a house in Queens.
Upon hearing her story, Jane Doe’s landlady advised her to go to the police, where she identified other perpetrators and victims, and an investigation was opened.
“Through false promises of a better life, the defendants ensnared young, vulnerable victims in a sordid world of sex-trafficking and used violence and cruel threats to force them into prostitution,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York, said in a Feb. 10 statement.
The family member defendants used violence and threats to force their victims to work in prostitution in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware, according to the DOJ.
They then took the proceeds and laundered them to conceal their source.
Six victims testified at the trial.
“One victim identified as ‘Diana’ testified that she was smuggled into the United States as a minor and forced to work as a prostitute. When she tried to escape, Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas beat and raped her in front of other members of the household, including Rosalio Melendez-Rojas and Abel Romero-Melendez,” according to the DOJ.
“Another victim identified as ‘Delia’ testified that she was forced into prostitution by Francisco Melendez-Perez and his uncle Rosalio Melendez-Rojas when she was 14 years old. When she refused to work, she was beaten.
“Victims ‘Fabiola’ and ‘Maria Rosalba’ also testified that they were forced to work as prostitutes through threats, physical abuse, and forced abortions by Rosalio Melendez-Rojas and Jose Osvaldo Melendez-Rojas.
“Victim ‘Daisy’ testified that she was forced into prostitution by Fabian Reyes-Rojas. Victim ‘Veronica’ testified at trial that Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas threatened her and her family, telling her that he would ‘chop [her] mother up into little pieces’ if she did not work in prostitution for his benefit.”
The border-crossing records of two of the convicted sex traffickers reveal a common pattern of continually crossing the border illegally until they make it past law enforceemnt.
Abel Romero-Melendez, who received a 20-year sentence, was apprehended by Border Patrol and returned to Mexico eight times after crossing illegally. The crossing dates included March 22, 2002, near Casa Grande, Arizona; July 14, 2006, near Nogales, Arizona; July 21, 2006, near Sasabe, Arizona; July 25, 2006, near Nogales, Arizona; July 30, 2006, in the Tucson sector of Arizona; June 4, 2012, in the Tucson sector; June 15, 2012, near Willcox, Arizona; and Oct. 29, 2012, in Falfurrias, Texas.
Fabian Reyes-Rojas, who is awaiting sentencing, was apprehended by Border Patrol and returned to Mexico seven times after crossing illegally, and jailed once for illegal re-entry.
Border records show Border Patrol apprehended Reyes-Rojas on March 11, 16, and 18 in 2003; Sept. 7 and 13 in 2007; and Sept. 8, 2011.
After being caught near Douglas, Arizona, on May 16, 2012, Reyes-Rojas was charged with illegal re-entry and spent 30 days in jail before being returned to Mexico.
No further entry records exist, but Reyes-Rojas resided in New York City from at least 2014, according to the complaint.