Recently obtained documents and interviews by the Houston Chronicle offer the first detailed account of how authorities in 2005 brought down the Houston-based sex trafficking ring.
The ring preyed on women and girls from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, illegally bringing them to Houston with false promises of legitimate work and then forcing them to work as prostitutes in cantinas to pay off smuggling fees and living expenses, according to court records and interviews with investigators.
The ring, run by Maximino "El Chimino" Mondragon, an immigrant from El Salvador, was based in at least three seemingly normal looking bars and restaurants in northwest Houston.
He worked closely with lead smuggler Walter Corea, a convicted felon and illegal immigrant who conspired to bring women to Houston from Central America
Mondragon had run businesses in Houston for at least a decade, according to records and interviews with police and a labor activist who helped rescue cantina workers.
To control the women, Mondragon kept "intelligence" on each one — the names of their mothers, brothers and children and locations of their homes and schools. Records show victims said he threatened to kill relatives or burn down family homes if they did not cooperate.
"They were scared to death of him. ... They thought he was the devil," said Sgt. Michael Barnett of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's enforcement division in Houston.
Beatings, forced abortions and prostitution took place behind closed doors or in adjacent buildings, houses and apartments around the bars, court records show. Aborted fetuses were buried or thrown down a drainage hole into the city sewer system, women told police...
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