South Texas District Court Issues Sentences in Human Trafficking and Sex Slave Prosecution; Victims Receive Immigration Assistance


Thursday, January 29, 2004 

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Justice Department Announces Sentencing In South Texas Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery Prosecution

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced the sentencing of seven men who earlier pled guilty to confining women in alien smuggling “safe houses” near the US-Mexico border and raping them repeatedly.  Attorney General John Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights R. Alexander Acosta and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Michael Shelby today announced that Juan Carlos Soto, Armando Soto-Huarto, Jose Corona-Soto, Martin Cortez-Gutierrez, Javier Olvera-Hernandez; Jose-Luis Villa-Zavala, and Jose Angel Pineda-Cortez were sentenced on various trafficking and forced servitude-related charges.

“These peddlers in human misery exploited the vulnerabilities of these women, prostituting them and subjecting them to other physical abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Acosta.  “This Administration remains committed to fighting back this old evil.  As President Bush told the United Nations, ‘the trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.’”

The men, who were arrested in March and April of 2003, were charged with federal civil rights violations, extortion, hostage-taking and immigration offenses.  Jose Corona-Soto, Javier Olvera-Hernandez Jose-Luis Villa-Zavala, and Jose Angel Pineda-Cortez each pled guilty during the summer of 2003 to alien smuggling and related charges.  Juan Carlos Soto, Armando Soto-Huarto, and Martin Cortez-Gutierrez pleaded guilty in August 2003 to charges of involuntary servitude and human trafficking offenses.

Juan Carlos Soto admitted to running a human smuggling operation, holding women from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador against their will, raping several of the women, and forcing them to do work without pay.  His brother, Armando Soto-Huarto, helped lead the smuggling organization and acknowledged not only his role in holding women against their will until their smuggling fees were repaid by their families or through compelled service to the organization, but also to knowing of the ongoing rapes.  A third Soto brother - Hector Soto - is still at large and remains charged with conspiracy.  Co-defendant Martin Cortez-Gutierrez admitted to participating in the Soto brothers’ smuggling operation and to holding a young Salvadoran woman in a condition of compelled service and to raping her. 

“The actions of these defendants clearly demonstrate the immeasurable tragedy associated with human trafficking cases,” said United States Attorney Shelby.  “Today's sentence should send a strong message: we are committed to using the full force of federal law to identify, arrest and prosecute anyone associated with these smuggling organizations.”
The victims have been relocated to safe quarters and are receiving immigration and refugee assistance provided for by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  Since the passage of the TVPA in October 2000, more than 400 victims of trafficking has been provided federal assistance.

U S. District Court Judge Randy Crane imposed the sentences in McAllen, Texas.  Armando Soto-Huarto was sentenced to ten years in prison and $11,532 in restitution to the victims.  Martin Cortez-Gutierrez was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and $11,532 in restitution to the victims.  Jose Corona-Soto was sentenced to twenty-seven months in prison.  Javier Olvera-Hernandez and Jose Angel Pineda-Cortez were sentenced to fifteen and four months in prison respectively.   Juan Carlos Soto is scheduled for sentencing tomorrow.  Jose Luis Villa-Zavala did not appear for sentencing and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. 

This successful prosecution highlights the Civil Rights Division’s aggressive efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases.  Over the past two days, the Division has announced developments in two other significant human trafficking cases.  Today, the Division is also announcing the sentencing in United States v. Lee, a case in which three men in American Samoa were convicted of holding and beating 200 Vietnamese and Chinese laborers in involuntary servitude in a garment factory.  Yesterday, in United States v. Rojas, the Division announced the indictments in Atlanta, Georgia of three brothers accused of trafficking girls into the United States and forcing them into prostitution through physical and mental coercion.

This Administration has greatly increased human trafficking prosecutions.  Since FY 2001, the Department has charged 121 traffickers, a nearly three-fold increase over the preceding three years.  Over that same period, the Department convicted 83 persons, more than 60 of whom pled guilty, or were convicted by a jury, of sex trafficking charges.  At present, the Department has 142 open investigations into possible human trafficking crimes.

Moreover, the Civil Rights Division has provided extensive training to state and local law enforcement in trafficking investigation, has worked with source nations to bolster supply-side deterrence and enforcement efforts, and has launched a public awareness campaign to educate the public.  Additionally, the Division is working closely with faith-based groups, which are more likely to have access to non-English speaking immigrants who are most frequently forced into involuntary servitude.  More information about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat human trafficking can be found on the DOJ website: .

This investigation was a joint effort of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Hidalgo County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department; the McAllen, Texas, Police Department; and the office of the Hidalgo County Attorney.  The case was prosecuted by Luis C. de Baca of the Civil Rights Division ’s criminal section, and Assistant United States Attorney Luis Martinez of the McAllen Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.

Photographs of the Soto brothers are available for use by print or broadcast media to assist in the apprehension of Hector Soto, as well as to encourage other possible victims to come forward.  Individuals with information about Hector Soto’s whereabouts or other instances of sex trafficking, forced labor, or involuntary servitude should call the Trafficking in Persons & Worker Exploitation Task Force complaint line at 1-888-428-7581.  Operators have access to translation services for non-English speaking callers.

 More information about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat human trafficking can be found on the DOJ website:

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 04013042.