Four Convicted in Sex Trafficking, Harboring, and Money Laundering Investigation
HOUSTON—Four people have entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens relating to their roles in a sex trafficking, harboring and money laundering organization, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Abel Medeles aka Chito, 64, and Odelia Hernandez, 45, both of Houston, entered their respective pleas this morning before U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. as did Eduardo Guzman Gonzales aka Miguel Rojas or El Pantera, 30, Alberto Mendez Flores aka Ardilla, 25, both Mexican citizens illegally residing in the U.S.
As part of their pleas, all admitted they worked for Las Palmas II, a cantina located in Houston. They all knew the cantina concealed, harbored and shielded illegal aliens who worked there from detection by law enforcement and that the owners were profiting from such concealment. As part of their employment, they aided in the operation of the business and their conduct substantially facilitated the concealment, harboring and shielding of the employees and patrons of the Las Palmas II, whom they all knew were illegally in the U.S.
Medeles operated the Las Palmas II parking lot. It was part of his job to notify his co-conspirators inside the cantina of any law enforcement presence he observed in order for his co-conspirators to be able to conceal from law enforcement the illegal activities in the Las Palmas II. Similarly, on at least one occasion, Hernandez told co-conspirators to lock the doors when she realized law enforcement was coming.
Gonzales and Flores managed the cantina. They paid the owners $20,000 each week out of the money received from the operation of the Las Palmas II and kept all the monies received in excess of that amount.
The cases against the others charged in relation to the investigation remain pending. They are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty through due process of law.
Judge Werlein has set sentencing for Medeles and Hernandez on Oct. 10, 2014, while Gonzales and Flores will be sentenced the following week. At that time, each faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine. They all will remain in custody pending that hearing.
The three-year investigation was conducted as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) and includes FBI, Harris County Sheriff?s Office, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of State, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.
Assistant United States Attorneys Ruben R. Perez and Joe Magliolo are prosecuting.