ICE Fights Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling

(ICE) Human trafficking and human smuggling represent significant risks to homeland security. Would-be terrorists and criminals can often access the same routes and utilize the same methods being used by human smugglers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit works to identify criminals and organizations involved in these illicit activities.

Human Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. Sex trafficking occurs when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or when the person induced to perform such acts has not attained 18 years of age.

Human Smuggling is the importation of people into a country via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into a country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in a country illegally.

Some smuggling situations may involve murder, rape and assault. The perpetration of violent crime in itself does not constitute human trafficking, because its elements remain fraud or coercion for commercial sex or forced labor.

In the fight against human smuggling and trafficking, ICE has developed highly successful initiatives that focus on attacking the infrastructure that supports smuggling organizations as well as the assets that are derived from these criminal activities. This might include seizing currency, property, weapons and vehicles.

One of the new tools that helps ICE fight human smuggling and trafficking is the issuance of Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) notices to property owners whose properties have been identified as being used to facilitate smuggling or harboring aliens. This is an important tool because many employers turn a blind eye to the facilitation of criminal activity on their properties.

ICE is committed to preventing the smuggling and trafficking of persons through initiatives, tools and resources that effectively impact organizations engaged in these practices.

5 of Alien Smuggling Organization Plead Guilty

LAREDO, Texas (ICE) — Five members of the Ortiz family alien smuggling organization, based in Bryan/College Station, Texas, pleaded guilty here Thursday to federal alien smuggling charges. U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle, Southern District of Texas, announced the pleas; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiated the investigation into the organization in January 2005.

The ICE investigation ultimately revealed a large-scale alien smuggling operation that since 1999 has transported hundreds of illegal aliens from the Mexican border to the Bryan, Texas, area.

Defendants Porfirio Ortiz, 37, Calixtro Ortiz, 52, Bernardino Ortiz, 49, and Sandra Ortiz, 32, all of Bryan; and Christopher Gene Torres, 24, of Kingsland, Texas, all pleaded guilty Aug. 21 to count one of the Indictment, charging them with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 20.

On Jan. 17, 2005, a black 1990 Ford F-250 hauling a horse trailer driven by Tyler Ross Severn, 28, of Bryan, arrived at the highway 16 Border Patrol checkpoint south of Hebbronville, Texas. The inspecting border patrol agent noticed a suspicious arrangement of hay blocking his view of the front area of the trailer. The agent peered inside and observed four adults and an infant, who were later identified as illegal aliens from Mexico.

The driver told agents that Porfirio Ortiz hired him to transport illegal aliens from Rio Grande City to Hebbronville, Texas. Severn drove the truck and trailer to Rio Grande City and loaded the five aliens into the trailer. The aliens were to pay Porfirio Ortiz $2,500 each, of which Severn was to receive $300 per person. Severn was to deliver the aliens to Manuel Antonio Valles, 36, also of Bryan, in Hebbronville. After locating and arresting Valles, agents searched his vehicle and found a notarized letter, handwritten by Porfirio Ortiz. The letter requested the return of his horse trailer that had been seized in a previous alien smuggling apprehension in December 2004 in Laredo, Texas.

Severn explained that by the time he was apprehended in 2005, he had made numerous trips transporting illegal aliens for the Ortiz family. Calixtro Ortiz served as a guide for the aliens and transferred the aliens to Severn at a house in Rio Grande City. Severn then transported the aliens to Bryan, Texas, where Porfirio or Bernardino Ortiz paid him. Severn took agents to the house in Rio Grande City where they spoke with the owner, Maria Bazan, 35, of Bryan, and Calixtro Ortiz. Bazan admitted she ran the stash house in Rio Grande City and that Calixtro Ortiz paid her $30 per day per alien she housed.

Valles was convicted by Jury on June 2, 2005 and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Severn pleaded guilty March 8, 2005 and was sentenced to 12 months. Bazan also pleaded guilty March 8, 2005, but has not yet been sentenced.

In this criminal organization’s typical mode of smuggling, the defendants either drove loads themselves or recruited drivers, such as Torres and Charles Salyers, 30, of College Station. They routinely transported aliens in a horse trailer with a live horse, designed to make the trip look legitimate. The aliens were then transported through one of the South Texas Border Patrol checkpoints on the way to Bryan, normally hidden in the tack room at the front of the trailers. Often, drivers transported multiple loads of aliens to Bryan in a single day. Drivers hired by the defendants revealed to investigators they had been paid as much as $70,000 each for their services.

From Bryan, Texas, the illegal aliens then traveled to their destinations throughout the United States. Family members of the smuggled aliens paid the smuggling fees by Western Union wire transfer to Ortiz family members or associates in Bryan. In total, investigators recovered receipts for about $800,000 in Western Union money transfers from families of smuggled aliens to the Ortiz organization in Bryan.

More than 40 U.S. Border Patrol and Texas Highway Patrol seizures of illegal aliens in South Texas have been linked to the Ortiz organization.

Darcy Ortiz Quezada, 24, of Bryan, and Salyers previously entered guilty pleas in Laredo to the same count of the indictment and are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 3, 2008. The alleged leader of the conspiracy, Baudel Ortiz, 31, of Bryan, until recently was a fugitive. However, on Aug. 17, he was apprehended in Bryan and was presented for initial appearance in federal court in Laredo on Aug. 19. His detention hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26.

The statutory maximum penalty for each alien smuggling violation is a maximum term of imprisonment of not more than 10 years, a maximum $250,000 fine, and a term of supervised release of up to three years.

Human Traffickers in Kansas City Plead Guilty to Coercing Prostitution, Money Laundering, and Identity Theft

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (ICE) — The three owners and operators of Asian massage parlors in Johnson County, Kan., pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to engaging in human trafficking by coercing their employees, whom they recruited from China, to engage in prostitution. This plea was announced by John F. Wood, U.S. Attorney, Western District of Missouri. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies.

"Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that reaches from the other side of the globe to the suburban Midwest," Wood said. "Chinese women were recruited to travel to Kansas City, then coerced to work as prostitutes at massage parlors. These businesses have been shut down and the owners brought to justice. We have also provided social services to assist their victims."

"Victims of human trafficking are deceived, coerced or threatened by their captors," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "ICE will work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify and protect the victims, and prosecute their captors." Hartwig oversees a six-state area, which includes: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Ling Xu, also known as "Cherry," 46, Zhong Yan Liu, also known as "Lucky," 36, and Cheng Tang, also known as "Tom," 22, all citizens of China residing in Overland Park, pleaded guilty in separate appearances this morning before U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan. Each of the defendants pleaded guilty to coercing persons to travel across state lines and national borders to engage in prostitution and illegal sexual services. They also pleaded guilty to money laundering by wiring more than $500,000 from the proceeds of that unlawful activity to China. Xu also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft for using the passports and identification of her female workers to make most of those wire transfers. All three defendants remain in federal custody.

Xu and Liu are married to other persons, with whom they have limited contact, and were living together with Xu’s son, Tang. Xu, Liu and Tang were involved in operating massage parlors, including: "China Rose Massage" and "China Villa Massage/Lin Dynasty" in Overland Park; and, at the times charges were filed, they were preparing to open "Victoria Square" in Overland Park. They also operated a nearby residence that was used for prostitution.

Co-defendant Hongmei Madole, also known as Hongmei Zhou, 32, of Olathe, Kan., pleaded guilty April 24 to coercing persons to travel across state lines and national borders to engage in prostitution and illegal sexual services. Madole owned "Asian Touch Massage" in Olathe.

Xu, Liu and Tang recruited female Asians to travel to the Kansas City area to work as masseuses. They facilitated the women’s travel, including, but not limited to, booking and purchasing the flights for the women. They would fly the women into the Kansas City, Mo., International Airport and then transport or have them transported to the businesses. Xu and Tang signed massage therapy license applications, as the manager of the businesses, for the females to obtain massage therapy licenses with the city of Overland Park.

Xu, Liu, and Tang placed ads in the Kansas City magazine, The Pitch, which stated the massage parlors offered, for example, "The most elegant environment and the most comfortable atmosphere in town. With free table shower and free Sauna!" The ads stated that the massage parlors were open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tang also posted and maintained ads for the business at ASPD.net, a website where male customers posted reviews of the sexual services offered by China Rose and China Villa Massage/Lin Dynasty.

The female Asians who worked for Xu, Liu, and Tang worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and lived inside the massage parlors. Xu, Liu and Tang operated surveillance cameras inside the massage parlors to monitor the female Asian workers. Inside the massage parlors, the female Asian workers were forced to perform sexual services on male patrons in exchange for money. Xu, Liu, and Tang also used a nearby apartment, within walking distance of one of the massage parlors, to have the female Asian workers provide extended sexual services to some male patrons.

Xu and Liu purchased supplies to be used in the prostitution activities, including bulk orders of condoms that were provided to the females for use while engaging in the prostitution activities.

Xu, Liu, and Tang used businesses, such as 888 Market and Ho’s Oriental Market, to wire at least $452,500 in proceeds from the prostitution businesses, via Western Union, to several locations in China. Xu wired at least $343,600 in this manner from 2005 to 2006. Of this amount, Xu wired $318,600 by illegally taking and using her female worker’s passports and identification. Liu wired at least $74,500 and Tang wired at least $34,400.

Xu was the head of these businesses, as the lead owner and operator. Xu also employed and paid Liu and Tang for their work and assistance in committing the offenses.

By pleading guilty today, Xu, Liu, and Tang also agreed to forfeit to the government $452,500, which represented the proceeds of the unlawful activity, as well as $60,497 that was seized by the FBI during the execution of federal search warrants at the defendants’ residences and businesses.

Xu is a native and citizen of China. She has resided legally in the United States pending adjudication of immigration benefits. Liu entered the United States on a visitor’s visa which expired in 2001. He remained in the United States illegally thereafter. Madole is a native of China who is a conditional resident alien in the United States based upon marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Under federal statutes, Xu, Liu, and Tang are each subject to a sentence of up to 40 years in federal prison without parole. Xu is also subject to an additional mandatory term of two years in federal prison without parole for aggravated identity theft, which must be served consecutively to her sentence on the other offenses. Madole could be subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the U.S. Probation Office completes its presentence investigations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia L. Cordes, Western District of Missouri, is prosecuting this case. It was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the police departments of Overland Park, Kan., Olathe, Kan., Mission, Kan., Lenexa, Kan., and Independence, Mo., and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.