Five members of a family-run sex trafficking organization were sentenced this week to prison terms of nearly 40 years in prison by United States District Judge Allyne R. Ross in federal court in Brooklyn. Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas was sentenced to 39 years and six months in prison; Jose Osvaldo Melendez-Rojas and Rosalio Melendez-Rojas were each sentenced to 39 years and four months in prison; Francisco Melendez-Perez and Abel Romero-Melendez were sentenced to 25 years and 20 years in prison respectively. The defendants were also ordered to pay restitution to their victims. The defendants were convicted by a federal jury in March 2020 of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, sex trafficking of minors, interstate prostitution, alien smuggling and money laundering conspiracy. A sixth co-defendant, Fabian Reyes-Rojas, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking in December 2019 and is awaiting sentencing.
“Through false promises of a better life, the defendants ensnared young, vulnerable victims in a sordid world of sex-trafficking and used violence and cruel threats to force them into prostitution,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Today’s lengthy sentence reflects the immeasurable harm the defendants’ brutality and exploitation inflicted on these young women and girls, and the commitment of this Office and its law enforcement partners to combating human trafficking in all its forms,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “I applaud the courage shown by the victims who testified and hope that the sentences the Court meted out will help them find closure on their path to healing. I commend the diligent and compassionate work of Eastern District of New York prosecutors and HSI agents and thank them for bringing the defendants to justice.”
“The traffickers in this case used deception and coercion to sell dreams of a better life in the United States to young and impressionable women, who arrived only to be forced into a life of torment, misery, sexual abuse and prostitution at the hands of their captors,” stated HSI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Patel. “The conviction and sentencing of these traffickers represent the culmination of an imperative investigation and could not have been possible without the cooperation and testimony of these brave victims, whose boundless courage led to justice for the heinous and reprehensible acts committed against them. HSI New York’s Human Trafficking Task Force combines federal, state, local and international resources to combat human trafficking by working hand-in-hand with our law enforcement partners to identify and dismantle criminal networks engaged in human trafficking and provide protection, assistance, and safe haven to victims.”
Between 2006 and July 2017, the defendants transported young and vulnerable Mexican women and girls, some of whom were minors, to the United States and forced them to work in prostitution. The defendants used false promises of love, marriage, and a better life to lure the women and girls into romantic and sexual relationships and isolated their victims from their families by bringing them to live with them at the defendants’ homes in Tenancingo, Mexico. The defendants then used physical and sexual violence, threats, and fraud to coerce their victims to work in prostitution in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware. The defendants took the proceeds generated from the victims’ prostitution and laundered them to conceal their source.
Six victim-witnesses testified at trial regarding the physical and sexual abuse they endured at the hands of the defendants. One victim identified as “Diana” testified that she was smuggled into the United States as a minor and forced to work as a prostitute. When she tried to escape, Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas beat and raped her in front of other members of the household, including Rosalio Melendez-Rojas and Abel Romero-Melendez. Another victim identified as “Delia” testified that she was forced into prostitution by Francisco Melendez-Perez and his uncle Rosalio Melendez-Rojas when she was 14 years old. When she refused to work, she was beaten. Victims “Fabiola” and “Maria Rosalba” also testified that they were forced to work as prostitutes through threats, physical abuse and forced abortions by Rosalio Melendez-Rojas and Jose Osvaldo Melendez-Rojas. Victim “Daisy” testified that she was forced into prostitution by Fabian Reyes-Rojas. Victim “Veronica” testified at trial that Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas threatened her and her family, telling her that he would “chop [her] mother up into little pieces” if she did not work in prostitution for his benefit.
The investigation, prosecution, bilateral enforcement action and extradition of the defendants apprehended in Mexico were coordinated through the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative. Since 2009, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have collaborated with Mexican law enforcement counterparts in the bilateral initiative to more effectively dismantle human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, bring human traffickers to justice, restore the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims and reunite victims with their children. These efforts have resulted in successful prosecutions in both Mexico and the United States, including U.S. federal prosecutions of more than 170 defendants in multiple cases in Georgia, New York, Florida and Texas, in addition to numerous federal and state prosecutions of associated sex traffickers in Mexico. The convictions in this case are the latest development in the Eastern District of New York’s comprehensive anti-trafficking program, which has to date indicted more than 100 defendants for sex trafficking; assisted more than 180 victims, including over 40 minors; reunited 19 victims’ children with their mothers; and secured restitution orders of over $4 million on behalf of trafficking victims.
The investigation and prosecution of the defendants was led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and HSI New York’s Trafficking in Persons Unit, with assistance from HSI Mexico City Attaché Office, the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the State Department, Interpol and the New York City Police Department. The government of Mexico, including Mexico’s Procuraduría General de la República and Policía Federal, as well as the National Center for Attention to Cybercrimes against Minors (CENADEM), also played a prominent role in advancing the bilateral anti-trafficking enforcement efforts in this case. Non-governmental victim service providers and advocates also dedicated efforts to restore and improve the lives of survivors of trafficking and their families.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Tanya Hajjar, Erin Argo and Gillian Kassner are in charge of the prosecution.
If you believe that you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or Text 233733.
JOSE MIGUEL MELENDEZ-ROJAS
FRANCISCO MELENDEZ-PEREZ (also known as “Paco” and “El Mojarra”)
Queens, New York
ABEL ROMERO-MELENDEZ (also known as “La Borrega” and “Borrego”)
Queens, New York
JOSE OSVALDO MELENDEZ-ROJAS
ROSALIO MELENDEZ-ROJAS (also known as “Leonel, “Wacho” and “El Guacho”)
Co-Defendant To Be Sentenced:
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 17-CR-434 (ARR)