The sex slavery traffickers posed as Lotharios and plied their young female victims with promises of better lives in New York far from the dusty, rural farms around Tenancingo, a town in southeastern Mexico.
Instead, the women wound up packed into dingy brothels in some of the toughest parts of New York City and the Hudson Valley, including Yonkers, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh where they were forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day, federal prosecutors said.
The lush life the traffickers promised was far from the reality the women encountered.
"The members of this ... ring lured their unsuspecting victims to the United States and then consigned them to a living hell," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
TOWN GRIPPED BY SEX SLAVERY
Tenancingo, besieged by poverty, has long been a recruiting ground for pimps who use promises of marriage to lure their female victims. When romance fails, they resort to violence -- using threats and abuse on the women -- many of whom are only teenagers, to force them into a life of prostitution in the United States. Once they're ensconced in the dirty brothels, beatings and threats to their families back home are used to keep them in line, prosecutors said.
One out of every 10 people in Tenancingo is involved in the sex slavery business, according to a BBC report earlier this year.
Thirteen of the alleged traffickers were charged Tuesday with sex trafficking and smuggling dozens of young women into the country to work as prostitutes.
The investigation was aimed at "blocking the repugnant sex trafficking corridor" between Tenancingo and New York, said James Hayes, the head of the New York field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
BROTHELS THROUGHOUT NEW YORK STATE
One of the accused traffickers, Isaias Flores-Mendez, 40, ran four brothels, prosecutors said. He was arrested Oct. 19 by New York City police on a charge of possessing a forged instrument and ordered held without bail. He was allegedly assisted by his brother, Bonifacio Flores-Mendez, 33, who helped operate the brothels, set up the victims' schedules, transported them to and from customers, and hired workers -- drivers, doormen, and street steerers -- to work for the operation.
They used what prosecutors called "chica cards" to advertise their services.
At the Yonkers brothel, customers paid $30 to doorman Valentin Jiamez-Dolores, 22, in exchange for a playing card which the customer would then give to the prostitute of his choice for sex, prosecutors said.
If the women became pregnant, the Flores-Mendez brothers or their assistants, gave the women handfuls of Cytotec, a drug that induces miscarriage.
The money the women -- who are described only as victim numbers in the complaint -- earned was turned over to the Flores-Mendez brothers.
"When Victim-1 did not provide Isaias Flores-Mendez with all of her earnings in a given day, he beat her," Department of Homeland Security Agent Elvin Hernandez wrote in the complaint.
OPERATING FROM BEHIND BARS
Even after he was jailed, Isaias Flores-Mendez continued to oversee his human sex slavery empire with the help of his brother, Bonifacio.
In a call between the brothers intercepted by federal agents, Isaias Flores-Mendez, who was locked up on Rikers Island, asked for a rundown of the prostitutes' schedule.
"Did you get women reported for Monday?" he asked.
"Yes, Chola, for Brooklyn," Bonifacio Flores-Mendez replied.
"Ah-hah," Isaias Flores Mendez said.
"And another one that said she had a fight in Poughkeepsie, she also reported herself for outside," Bonifacio Flores-Mendez said.
"Oh, for outside, yes, yes, I know who she is," Isaias Flores-Mendez said.
"And another one ... there was even one too many ... then the ... dark-skinned Angelica for ... Yonkers," Bonifacio Flores-Mendez said.
Brooklyn was actually a reference to the Queens brothel, federal agents said. "Outside" meant that the prostitute who was supposed to work in Poughkeepsie would work through a "delivery service" because she had a fight in the Dutchess County location, federal agents said.
The 13 defendants face possible prison sentences ranging from 5 years to life behind bars. The Flores-Mendez brothers each face a possible life sentence.