A Texas family has been charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy to do so, the Department Of Justice (DOJ) announced April 1.
Maria Botello, 54, her son, Edgar Botello, 28, her nephew, Arian Botello, 23 and her daughter, Yudy Lucatero, 31, from Houston allegedly coerced waitresses working at the Houston bar Puerto Alegre to engage in commercial sex acts.
The alleged acts took place between 2007 to 2020, according to a criminal complaint filed March 30. The victims included adults and at least one minor.
Maria Botello is accused of coordinating “dates” with clients who paid $70 for every 15 minutes with the girls, according to the DOJ.
Her son, Edgar, and nephew, Arian, allegedly acted as “enforcers” who used weapons, threats, and intimidation to keep the victims working at the bar compliant.
The investigation also accused Maria and her daughter Yudy of discussing “the rules and procedures in relation to the sex trafficking.”
At least one victim was a 17-year-old girl who was transported into the U.S. specifically for the purpose of forced sex work at the bar, according to investigators.
While there, she was allegedly forced to engage in commercial sex.
The family is expected to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy at 2 p.m. on April 2.
If convicted, they each face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) initiated the investigation with the assistance of the Houston Police Department (HPD) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack is prosecuting the case.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection says one in four victims of human trafficking or modern-day slavery are children—and women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99 percent of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58 percent in other sectors.
Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labor imposed by state authorities.
The State Department found in 2019 the top three nations of origin for human trafficking victims were the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Texas alone saw more than 1,080 human trafficking cases reported in 2019, according to the Human Trafficking Hotline. Of those reported, 933 were female and 261 were minors.
Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott new efforts to stamp out human trafficking related to illegal border crossings amid a surge in apprehensions, including of unaccompanied minors, at the southern border.
The anti-human trafficking efforts will be included in the state’s “Operation Lone Star,” which was launched at the start of March to address the smuggling of people and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas.
As part of the new efforts, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers and agents, as well as the Texas Rangers, will interview unaccompanied minors who crossed the border, to identify victims of human trafficking and gather information to help arrest traffickers.
Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.