Ringleader in Texas' biggest sex-trafficking ring sentenced to life in prison

HOUSTON – A federal judge sentenced the woman described as the mastermind behind the biggest sex-trafficking ring ever busted in Texas to life in prison Wednesday.

Hortensia Meddles-Arguello, known as Tencha, was sentenced for her role in the sex-trafficking operation that continued for more than 10 years at various locations, including a bar called Las Palmas on Telephone Road.

The federal government spent three years investigating Tencha and 14 other people who were ultimately charged.

“Undocumented women and girls were forced to have sex with men at various cantinas,” according to the evidence prosecutors presented at trial.

“There were about 17 rooms at Las Palmas and the rooms were nasty, horrible, dirty,” federal prosecutor Ruben Perez, who tried the case, told Channel 2 Investigates. “These women came to American in search of the American dream and instead they ran smack into the American nightmare. They didn’t come to America to be a prostitute, they came to make a better life for themselves, their kids, families and for their loved ones.”

At times underage girls were locked in rooms.

Other women were supplied to customers through pimps.

“We had to work six-days a week from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. On weekends we had to work later,” one victim of the sex-trafficking organization told Channel 2’s Jace Larson.

“[Tencha] looked for as many avenues to make money by taking advantage of these women as possible. She charged for parking. She charged to enter the club. She charged to utilize the rooms she charged extra for sex,” IRS Criminal Investigation Houston Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mary Hammond said. The IRS Criminal Investigation office assisted the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office.

“She even charged up to $500 per hour for customers to have sex with the youngest looking children,” Hammond said.

All of the people charged by federal prosecutors were arrested, except for Alfonso Diaz-Juarez who is on the run. Anyone with information about his whereabouts can earn a $50,000 reward.

Diaz-Juarez is a 48-year-old Mexican citizen, the FBI says. Agents said they believe he travels between Texas and Mexico. Anyone with information about Diaz-Juarez can contact the FBI in Houston at 713-693-5000.

If you have a tip about this story or another idea for investigative reporter Jace Larson, email him at jlarson@kprc.com or text him at 832-493-3951. Follow him on Twitter: @JaceLarson.