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It was a sprawling family business, employing drivers, dispatchers and doormen. There was even a mechanic who swept vehicles for tracking devices that might have been surreptitiously placed by federal agents, prosecutors said. The ringleaders, Isaias Flores-Mendez, who is about 42, and his brother, Bonifacio, 35, both natives of Mexico, are among 16 people who have now pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the sex-trafficking ring, which was broken up in April Most of the defendants will serve prison sentences of five years or less.
But in separate hearings last month, a federal judge in Manhattan, Katherine B. Forrest, sentenced each brother to life in prison. Life sentences are not unprecedented in federal sex-trafficking cases; there have been at least 11 imposed nationally in cases since , according to research by Alexandra F.
James T. Hayes Jr. The office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, has said in court papers that the Flores-Mendez ring was part of a larger network of sex traffickers operating between Tenancingo, Mexico, New York and elsewhere. Women were typically lured through the promise of romantic relationships and a better life, and were forced into prostitution after they arrived, the office said. The judge noted that women who refused to submit were beaten, isolated and starved.
Bharara said in a statement. Government filings show that brothels were operated at First Street in Newburgh, N. Prosecutors have estimated that more than women were victims of the trafficking conspiracy, including some who were minors. The government said it had been unable to locate or identify the vast majority of the victims, and that of the few who were interviewed by the authorities, most would not cooperate largely out of fear of retaliation.
One woman who did cooperate, cited in court records as Victim 1, entered the United States at age 17 with her baby, after the brothers arranged to have her smuggled across the border, prosecutors said. Over much of the next year, the government said, the woman was forced to have sex against her will.