FBI: Female ringleader, 13 others charged in human trafficking ring

HOUSTON - We're learning new details of an FBI raid that led to the arrest of 13 people, accused of holding dozens of girls and forcing them into the sex trade.

The prostitution ring was allegedly operated from three bars that doubled as bordellos owned by 66-year-old Hortencia Medeles-Arguello, who is accused of operating them with her daughters, brother and sister as a family business.

For more than a dozen years she allegedly forced women and underage girls from Mexico to work as sex slaves through threats and violence.

"This sex ring victimized women and young girls who were broughthere from mexico and forced into the sex trade through violence and intimidation," said FBI Special Agent Stephen Morris.

Authorities say woman and children worked long hours in cantinas and were sold to men for money. They were sometimes beaten if their customers were not satisfied.

The young female victims were also kept in locked rooms.

On Thursday night, Arguello and 12 other suspects, were arrested when federal, state and local police launched almost a dozen raids around the city.

Thirteen of the 14 defendants were arraigned in Houston federal court Friday afternoon. All are being held without bond.

Alfonso Diaz Juarez, 45, is still at large. Investigators believe he may still be located in the Houston area, or traveling to Mexico. They are offering a reward to find him.

The defendants are facing charges including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Agents believe the prostitution ring generated more than $12.5 million.

In the last two and a half years, the Human Trafficking Task Force says they rescued 12 victims, and five of those were children.

Twenty-one young women arrested in Thursday night's raids are being held as material witnesses. And investigators believe there may be more victims who are afraid to come forward.

They're asking anyone with information to call the FBI, Harris Co Sheriff's Office or Houston Crime Stoppers.

Law enforcement sources tell Local 2 news that because of the government shutdown, FBI agents were only able to mount the raids because they could show there was a continuing threat to victims of the ring and because one suspect is still at large.

Human trafficking a common problem in Houston

These recent FBI raids on human trafficking are a horrible reminder of what one local woman went through for half of her life. Forced into prostitution at 14, she says she was stripped of her value, identity and now is still too scared to show her face.

"You don't have no say so in what happens to you. Your body is not yours no more," she said.

Houston has been coined a hub for domestic and international sex trafficking because of the close proximity to Mexico, the cultural diversity, and the I-10 corridor that runs throughout Houston.

"Every side of this city, in Harris County, and outside and across the country. It's everywhere," said Kathy Griffin-Grinan.

She leads a program inside of the Harris County Jail helps to rehabilitate women who were victims and are now having to cope with the trauma they have lived through. Under Sheriff Adrian Garcia, this is the first program in Texas to target this specific group.

"A lot of them are child victims and they aged out and knew nothing else, so here they are," said Griffin-Grinan.

"I was kidnapped, taken when I was 13," said the victim with whom we spoke. "If I didn't have a certain quota a night I was beat with extension chords."

According to recent statistics, women as young as 12 years old are being sold for sex. There are 6,000 runaways a year in our city; one out of three will be lured into the sex trade.

"I was scared to speak out I was scared of condemnation that I would be thrown away to the system and I didn't want to go back to the abuse," the young victim said.

For more information on how to identify and assist a trafficking victim, click here.

List of those arrested in Thursday and Friday's raids:

HORTENCIA MEDELES-ARGUELLO – aka Raquel Medeles Garcia, aka Tencha
Citizenship: United States
Age: 66

Citizenship: United States
Age: 49

JOSE L. URAGA – aka Wicho
Citizenship: Mexico
Age: 34

Citizenship: Mexico
Age: 28

EDUARDO GUZMAN GONZALES – aka Miguel Rojas, aka El Pantera
Citizenship: Mexico
Age: 30

Citizenship: Mexico
Age: Unverified

Citizenship: United States
Age: 55

Citizenship: United States
Age: 64

ABEL MEDELES – aka Chito
Citizenship: United States
Age: 64

Citizenship: United States
Age: 45

TALAT CRIPPIN – aka Chacho
Citizenship: United States
Age: 25

DIANA MEDELES GARCIA – aka Diana Garcia Marquez
Citizenship: United States
Age: 48

Citizenship: United States
Age: 35

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