HOUSTON – More than a dozen alleged members and associates of the Southwest Cholos street gang are set to appear in federal court on a variety of charges to include sex trafficking, drug trafficking, selling firearms, human smuggling and identity theft, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
A federal grand jury returned the 37-count indictment on Nov. 2.
All of the defendants are charged in varying counts to include multiple conspiracy counts; sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud or coercion; transportation to engage in prostitution; enticing or coercing another to travel in interstate commerce for prostitution; transportation of illegal aliens; importation of aliens for immoral purposes; possession with the intent to distribute heroin; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines; illegal dealing of firearms; felon in possession of a firearm; illegal re-entry; false statements; and aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, the defendants operated several brothels in apartments throughout Houston as well as in Mexico. The primary location was the Carriage Way Apartment Complex on Dashwood in southwest Houston, which was also home to their base of operations for drug and firearms trafficking, according to the allegations.
In the sex trafficking scheme, illegal aliens were allegedly promised they could work in a restaurant to pay off their smuggling debts. After arriving to Houston, however, victims were told they actually had to work as prostitutes in brothels the alleged gang members controlled. The indictment alleges the defendants engaged in numerous acts and threats of violence against the victims and their families whenever the women refused to work as prostitutes or failed to make enough money.
The indictment further alleges the defendants would tattoo their names or nicknames on the victims to identify them as their property and demonstrate control over them.
Authorities have identified at least six trafficking victims, the youngest of whom was 14. At the time of arrests, seven more victims were found in the brothels.
Those arrested Wednesday include Houston residents Giovani Alecio aka Whiteboy, 26; Victor Javiel Gonzalez, 29; Maria Angelica Moreno-Reyna aka Patty, 51; Gabriela Gonzalez-Flores aka Gabby, 46; Eddie Torres aka Monterrey 38; Jose Luis Moreno aka Lucky, 23, Gilberto Espinoza Garcia, 49, Hector Reyna aka Pantera, 26; Jimmy Mejia Chavez, 33; Grisel Salas aka Cris, 34, of Donna; and Jose Ruben Palomo-Martinez, 48, of Mission. Those arrested in the Houston area are expected to make their initial appearances before a judge on Thursday.
Two more defendants – Erik Ivan Alvarez-Chavez aka Casa, 39, and Denis Amaya Calballero aka Keiko, 25, both of Houston – were already in custody on related charges and are expected to make their appearances in federal court in the near future.
Nine others are also charged, but have not yet been taken into custody. Bianca Stephanie Reyna aka Troubles, 20; Claudia Soriano-Hernandez, 26; Juan Carlos Contreras Cervantes, 25, all from Houston; Raul Moreno Reyna aka Coney, 53; William Alberto Lopez, 27; Anadalit Duarte aka Paola, 25, and Walter Lopez, 26, all originally from Houston but believed to have fled to Mexico; and Israel Juarez Sifuentes, 43, and Melissa Dominguez aka Missy, 50, both of Donna, are considered fugitives and warrants remain outstanding for their arrests. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI Houston field office at 713-693-5000.
Some of the defendants also allegedly engaged in human smuggling separate from the sex trafficking scheme. The indictment alleges at least nine aliens have been identified as being smuggled through stash houses some of the defendants controlled in the Rio Grande Valley to locations in Houston. The smuggled aliens paid substantial sums, including two Chinese nationals who each paid more than $40,000, according to the charges. During the enforcement actions yesterday, 16 more smuggled aliens were discovered in area stash houses.
The indictment also alleges several counts of heroin and methamphetamine trafficking and the selling of numerous stolen firearms
If convicted of sex trafficking, the defendants face a minimum of 15 years and up to life imprisonment. Those charged with the drug trafficking also face up to life with a minimum of 10 years as possible punishment. The human smuggling charges carry a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, while those convicted in the illegal trafficking of firearms face another five years imprisonment.
Soriano-Hernandez, Mejia-Chavez and Contreras-Cervantes were also indicted for illegally re-entering the United States following deportation for which they face up to two years imprisonment, while Javiel Gonzalez is also charged as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and faces up to 10 years imprisonment.
Alvarez-Chavez also allegedly stole the identity of a Salvadoran man so he could obtain temporary protected status as a citizen of that country. If convicted, he faces a mandatory two years which must be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed.
The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, Houston Police Department, Texas Anti-Gang Center and ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations conducted the investigation as part of both the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA). The case is also an example of the coordination among law enforcement who are part of the Houston Law Enforcement Violent Crime Initiative announced in June 2017 which combines personnel and resources from numerous federal, state and local agencies. The goal of the initiative is to proactively fight and reduce violent crime across the Greater Houston area by targeting the region’s most violent offenders, augmenting investigative and prosecutorial efforts, and enhancing training, public awareness and education.