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domenica 26 aprile 2015
PIMP CITY Sex Trafficking in Tenancingo
Tenancingo has the highest per capita concentration of sex traffickers on Earth, by one estimate 1,000 out of a population of 11,000, five of them on the U.S. government’s 10 Most Wanted List.
As the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch has been the nation’s mostaggressive and successful prosecutorof sex traffickers. Her office has indicted more than 50 traffickers and rescued more than 120 victims, at least 17 of them minors.
Big-time traffickers who imagined they were beyond the reach of American law in their gaudy homes (aka calcuilchil, or “houses of ass”) in Tenancingo (aka Caifancingo, or “Pimpville”) found themselves extradited and getting heavy prison sentences in Brooklyn federal court.
And Lynch did not stop there. Her office worked tirelessly to help “victim-mothers” regain custody of children who had been held hostage in Mexico as a way to keep them working as prostitutes in New York.
At least 14 children were reunited with their mothers. One woman had been separated from her child for more than a decade by a Tenancingo organization whose diminutive matriarch was dubbed “the mini-madam.”
In announcing that reunion along with the extradition of three major Tenancingo traffickers in 2012, Lynch presented herself and her office as only part of a larger team.
“These latest extraditions and the reunification of a victim with her child are the culmination of a sustained and committed effort by the United States government and its partners in Mexico to work together, and to work with their partners in the community, to identify, prosecute, and punish sex traffickers, and to restore the dignity and lives of survivors of this heinous crime,” she said.
Her closing words were out of a pimp’s nightmare.
“The sex trafficking of young girls and women is modern-day slavery,” she declared. “We will do everything in our power to eradicate it.”
With her Senate confirmation, Lynch suddenly has considerably more power. That is sure to translate into more pimp indictments and extraditions, as well as mother-child reunions.
And by sublime coincidence, her confirmation comes the same week as the 13th annual gathering of the Freedom Network USA in Washington, D.C.
“A national alliance of experienced advocates working with survivors of all forms of human trafficking to ensure that trafficked persons have access to justice, safety, and opportunity,” the Freedom Network says of itself.
The panelists at this week’s gathering include Suzanne Tomatore, the director of the Immigrant Women and Children Project at the New York City Bar Association’s City Bar Justice Center. She has worked with Lynch’s office to reunite victim-mothers with their children.
“It takes a very long time, a lot of barriers in the way,” Tomatore notes.
Tomatore has witnessed a reunion.
“Pretty amazing,” she says. “It’s a reward for doing this kind of work, to see family made whole again.”
Tomatore describes Lynch as a prosecutor with a deep understanding of the law who put together a team that has proven able to conduct complicated international prosecutions while demonstrating genuine respect for the victims.
“I can’t speak more glowingly of her team on these trafficking cases,” Tomatore says.
Tomatore was as stunned as anybody who has worked with Lynch that the Republicans would have chosen a trafficking bill to block her confirmation.
“It is so bizarre that they held up her confirmation on trafficking when she has taken up such leadership on this issue,” Tomatore says.
In successfully seeking the extradition of three Tenancingo brothers who worked as traffickers back in 2011, the Lynch team in Brooklyn submitted affidavits from three of their victims. One, identified only as Jane Doe 1, reports that she was 14 years old in February 2005, when she met a young man named Benito Lopez-Perez in Puebla, Mexico.
“A group of us went to the movies, and Lopez-Perez took everyone back to their homes,” she recounts. “Lopez-Perez dropped everyone else off first, and I was left alone with him in the car. Lopez-Perez told me he was going to pick up his jacket at his house in Tenancingo, a town next to Puebla, before taking me to my house.”
She goes on: “However, after we got to his house, Lopez-Perez invited me in to meet his family. Lopez-Perez left me alone with his mother, who tried to tell me how wonderful her son was and how lucky I was to be with him…When Lopez-Perez came back, he told me that he was not going to take me home. He took me to a bedroom and raped me. I tried to resist, but he did not stop.”
She continues: “The following day, I begged Lopez-Perez to let me go...Lopez-Perez then locked me in a room for most of the day...He told me that I could make money working as a prostitute in a bar…When I told him I did not want to work in a bar, he got angry and he told me I was going to do it whether I liked it or not. After he again locked me in the room for hours, he came back and asked me whether I had changed my mind. When I said no, he hit me and told me to shut up, and said that he would never let me leave. He threatened to kill my whole family if I tried to leave.”
She reports: “The next day, Lopez-Perez explained the rules to me, which were that I could never go out alone and that I had to do everything he said. I was also told that I had to obey Lopez-Perez’s sister, or she would beat me…Lopez-Perez’s sister took me to a bar in order for me to start working as a prostitute...[She] put me in a room with a man who raped me. Then [she] took money from the man and told me that I had to give her all the money I had and that she would search me to make sure I did not keep any of the money.”
“After I had worked for Lopez-Perez for approximately five or six months and I had turned 15, Lopez-Perez told me that we were going to cross the border to the United States because the work would be easier and he would make more money…He made arrangements with ‘coyotes’ to smuggle us across the border…We were transported in vehicles to Phoenix, Arizona, and then to Las Vegas, Nevada...We took an airplane to New York using fake IDs.”
“When we arrived in New York, I was forced to provide sexual services to clients at private residences, being transported from appointment to appointment by people who worked for Lopez-Perez as if it were a home delivery food service. On any given day, the minimum number of clients I served was 10 and the maximum was 40. I was forced to turn over all the money to the person who transported me, and if I tried to keep any of the money for myself, I would receive a beating.”
“This lifestyle continued for more than five years. During this time I was too afraid to escape, since I was beaten constantly by Lopez-Perez and other people who worked for him, and I had been warned that if I tried to leave, they would kill my family. Lopez-Perez would beat me and rape me regularly to control me. He would beat me with his fists and with objects like telephone cables and belts. Even after Lopez-Perez went back to Mexico, I was never left alone. There was always someone with me who was watching me to make sure I did not escape.”
“In or about August or September 2010, I escaped with the help of a Mexican couple I had met at a Laundromat…I went to a domestic violence center, and from there I was placed in a shelter for victims of this type of violence.”
Lopez-Perez and his two brothers were extradited from Tenancingo, whose status as Pimpville has been described in detail by Erica Pearson of the New York Daily News. The three pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court. Jane Doe 1 testified at Lopez-Perez’s sentencing.
“I can only describe my life in New York as five years in hell,” she said. “From the day I arrived in New York until the day I escaped, Benito forced me to work seven days a week. I was just merchandise for him. His associates, his clients treated me like an animal.”
She added, “At the end of the day I was bleeding and in great pain caused by these men.”
She recalled a recurring feeling after severe beatings.
“I was upset because he hadn’t killed me and that I had to live another day of torture.”
Lopez-Perez got 18 years. So did his brother, Anastasio Romero-Perez, who had romanced a 14-year-old, then forced her into prostitution, at one point kicking her so hard in the stomach that she vomited blood.
Another brother, Jose Gabino Barrientos-Perez, got 10 years. He had pressured the mother of two of his children into prostitution, saying they needed to pay medical bills for their first child, who had been born prematurely. He then smuggled her to New York to work for Lopez-Perez, where she learned the brothers had also snared her sister at 14. The sisters were subsequently rescued by law enforcement.
“Barrientos-Perez accused me of talking to law enforcement authorities, and he threatened to not let me see my children again,” the mother-victim says in court papers.
After the brothers were led from the courtroom to begin their prison terms, Lynch issued a statement.
“We hope that these sentences bring some measure of closure to the victims as they attempt to heal from the mental and physical abuse inflicted by these defendants,” she said.
Thanks to the Lynch team, the three brothers and a number of other traffickers were absent from the pimp contingent in Tenancingo’s annual procession in honor of St. Michael the Archangel in September 2014, and the same month in 2015.
The pimps still at liberty—particularly the five on the 10 Most Wanted List—could not have been happy to learn in November 2014 that their nemesis had been nominated to become the new U.S. attorney general.
Then, along with the pimps behind bars, they were given cause for amusement when Senate Republicans blocked a confirmation vote with, of all things, a human trafficking bill.
Anybody who gives such monsters reason to laugh brings shame on those who give it.
"Tenancingo has spawned, frankly, a cottage industry of victimization," U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch told Fusion. "It's disturbing on many, many levels. They're family-led organizations that specialize in trafficking young girls, prostituting them in Mexico, bringing them to the U.S., forcing them into prostitution here."
According to the documentary Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade– hosted by Mariana van Zeller – human trafficking is the fastest growing enterprise in the world, partially because of corrupt local government officials who are in on this money-making scheme. "The women are actually a commodity to be used over and over and over again," one U.S. government official told them.
As for the U.S. government, they spend far more money on fighting the drug trade and counterfeiting, despite the huge profit sex trafficking makes. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 146 women have seen their pimps face any kind of sentencing.
"Based on our estimates, a pimp can make half a million dollars a year with three women working for him, each seeing an average of 20 clients a day, each for 15 minutes," Fusion reports. They traveled to Tenancingo (a town that's been the subject of attention for this issue before), sent a reporter into a normal-looking house in Queens that ended up being a brothel, interviewed an incarcerated former pimp and spoke with women who have been in or are still working in prostitution against their will. It's chilling, moving and definitely worth watching.
In this small Mexican town that sends sex slaves to New York, little boys dream of growing up to be pimps.
Gaudy gabled houses that rise above gated walls are proof of the profits to be made from funneling “delivery girls” to Roosevelt Ave. in Queens.
An annual parade contingent of pimps in plumed hats — wielding whips to settle business beefs — is evidence that cash and fear has conquered shame here.
“Many kids aspire to be traffickers,” said Emilio Munoz Berruecos, who grew up in the next village and runs a local human rights center. “This is a phenomenon that goes back half a century.”
The town of 10,000, about 80 miles from Mexico City, is Mexico’s undisputed cradle of sex trafficking, one end of a pipeline that leads directly to our city’s streets.
It’s a family business, and through the decades, the pimps have perfected methods to coerce women into sexual slavery using romance, lies and the threat of violence. Over the last 20 years they have branched out of Latin America, sending sex workers to New York and other U.S. cities, experts said.
At first glance, the little municipality looks innocent enough. A big yellow Catholic church anchors the town square, decorated with animal-shaped topiary. The main roads are gaily draped with purple and white banners.
But during a drive along the side streets, where authorities say some of the major trafficking clans live, it becomes clear Tenancingo is not the average Mexican town.
Sprawling homes painted pink, bright orange or kelly green stand three and four stories in the air, replete with pagoda-like turrets and massive finials shaped like eagles or angels. Plaster swans decorate balconies. Windows are covered in mirrored glass etched with wolves or flowers, making it impossible to see inside.
Townspeople have long called the houses “calcuilchil” or “houses of ass” in their indigenous Nahuatl language, according to anthropologist Oscar Montiel.
“The entire community isn’t OK with it. However, to say something against the traffickers is seen as dangerous,” said Rosario Adriana Mendieta Herrera, who runs a state women’s collective.
Duringcarnavalin February, traffickers return from the U.S. to celebrate. The streets fill with revelers as caped pimps parade their prostitutes around and whip each other.
Every Sept. 29, Tenancingo celebrates its patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel, with a procession. Some call him “San Miguel Caifancingo” or “St. Michael of Pimpville.”
Behind the pomp is a tightly organized business. Each family sends its youngest and most handsome men across Mexico to pose as salesmen with nice clothes and fancy cars, Munoz Berruecos said.
They woo rural women waiting at bus stops or taking Sunday strolls in the park. Once the women are seduced, they are coerced into prostitution.
The women are held inside the Tenancingo “security houses” — where some say they were repeatedly raped. If they have children, the kids are kept in the town for leverage after they are dispatched to red-light districts.
Some go to Mexico City. Many end up in Queens, where johns can order them for delivery by calling numbers advertised on cards, key chains or bottle openers, authorities say.
One 24-year-old survivor said she spent two months in Tenancingo after her “boyfriend” took her there to meet his family.
He turned out to be a pimp and she wound up in New York. After escaping from her Queens apartment in 2009, she helped ICE catch the family ringleader — but her nightmare is not over.
"Sadly, we can’t talk by telephone. I don’t know if my family is OK or if those men went to look for them, because they know where I lived,” she said.
Her lawyer, Lori Cohen of Sanctuary for Families, has worked with dozens of trafficking victims from all across Mexico.
“But the pimps all come from Tenancingo,” said Cohen. “It’s multi-generational. You have families where the grandfather, father and son are all engaged in trafficking. They pass down the tricks of the trade.”
Officials said each prostitute they bring to New York — where they service up to 35 johns a day — nets the traffickers about $100,000 a year. The money is wired back to Tenancingo, where the pastel fortresses grow ever larger.
Many townspeople, like Cristina Romero, 21, who works at a sandwich shop off the main square, believe the women are willing partners.
“They are from humble, poor towns and working like this gives them a better standard of living,” she said. “They look happy, out at carnaval.”
She doesn’t blame the traffickers or the johns because “men will go as far as we let them,” she said.
Last year, the Autonomous University of Tlaxcala surveyed some 350 Tenancingo schoolboys about their goals. About 16% said they hoped to become a pimp, while 44% said at least one friend had told them about wanting to be one.
“Boys have a perception that becoming a trafficker is easy money. It’s not punished, and it’s so easy to do,” said Mendieta Herrera.
However, members of at least four of the town’s biggest families have been caught and tried in the U.S.
A massive metal gate blocks the home at No. 40 along Calle 3 Sur, where federal police recently rounded up members of the Granados ring.
In March, Angel Cortez Granados, 25, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court to luring a woman named Esperanza to the U.S. and forcing her into prostitution. Six other Granados family members have been charged in New York.
One of Tenancingo’s most notorious families — Los Carretos — was busted by ICE after a tip to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
The Carreto brothers got 50 years in prison in 2004 after admitting they forced at least eight women, once wooed with chocolates and teddy bears, into prostitution in Queens.
The 4-foot-10 matriarch, Consuelo Carreto Valencia, was dubbed “mini-madam” after she was extradited to New York. Court sketches from her 2008 plea show her with her white hair pulled up in pigtails.
While Tlaxcala and other states have passed laws making human trafficking a crime, punishment in Mexico is rare. Before last year, victims’ families didn’t even have any official way to report trafficking in Tlaxcala Since then, there have been 120 complaints and 24 arrests — but not a single conviction, Munoz Berruecos said.
A stricter federal anti-trafficking bill has been passed but not signed into law. Mexican congresswoman Rosi Orozco said she hopes the tougher standards will deter trafficking.
But she knows history is not on her side.
A Tenancingo legend holds that pimping goes back to the arrival of conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1519. The warrior Xicoténcatl is said to have offered Tlaxcaltecan virgins to the conquering Spaniards.