Three people pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to bringing illegal immigrant women to Aiken County to work as prostitutes whose clientele were migrant farm workers.
Maria Garcia-Moreno, 42, of Tamaulipas, Mexico; Ruben Cabanas-Torres, 30, of Veracruz, Mexico; and Esteban Acosta-Munoz, 51, of Honduras; pleaded guilty to violating the Mann Act by transporting an individual across state lines for the purpose of having her engage in prostitution, the U.S. Attorneys Office reported.
Each faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date has not been scheduled. A Mann Act charge is also pending against a fourth defendant, Donaciano Tecpa-Tecpa, said Assistant U.S. Attorney DeWayne Pearson.
The three who pleaded guilty Friday admitted that they made more than 200 trips between Aiken County and Atlanta from January 2009 to July 2012 to bring women to work as prostitutes, Pearson said. The prostitutes mostly worked out of dilapidated single-wide trailers that served as makeshift brothels, he said.
Occasionally, the ring organizers would take the prostitutes directly to farms.
The prostitutes would work in South Carolina for a week and then would be driven back to Atlanta. New women would be brought the next week, Pearson said. During a week, a prostitute would see about 60 johns, charging $20 to $25 for sex, he said.
The prostitutes were illegal immigrants but none were being held against their will, Pearson said.
Garcia-Moreno served as the madam who organized the trips and managed the money. Cabanas-Torres worked as a driver and bodyguard who made sure the women were not robbed or beaten by clients. Acosta-Munoz, who was married to Garcia-Moreno, also worked as a driver, Pearson said.
All three will be deported after serving their sentences.
Law enforcement learned of the prostitution ring from a tip. A female caller told them about a friend who had answered an advertisement for farm work and found herself involved in the ring. That woman had fled the United States but her friend wanted police to know what had happened, Pearson said.
Atlanta serves as a hub for immigrant prostitution rings, Pearson said. Those who run the rings take women to rural areas throughout the south, he said.
All too often we see the sorts of exploitation and abuse that have taken place in this case when people are treated as a commodity, said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta. While these guilty pleas will ensure the defendants will be held accountable for their criminal actions, we should also not forget the women who have been rescued from lives of misery as a result of this investigation.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.