SAN JOSE – Ariel Guizar-Cuellar was sentenced to 460 months in prison in connection with multiple child-sex-trafficking-related charges for his role in a Bay Area conspiracy to exploit minors for child pornography and sex trafficking, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp. The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Beth L. Freeman, U.S. District Judge. Judge Freeman also sentenced one of Guizar-Cuellar’s co-defendants, Araceli Mendoza, to serve a 120-month prison term for her role in the same conspiracy.
Guizar-Cuellar, 41, and Mendoza, 30, both of San Jose, are two of four defendants convicted in the child sex trafficking scheme. The other two co-defendants are Jocelyn Contreras, 29, of Redwood City, and Alyssa Anthony, 30, of Gilroy. Guizar-Cuellar, Contreras, and Anthony all pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the conspiracy; in October 2021, a jury convicted Mendoza for her role in the conspiracy and for the sex trafficking of one minor victim. Judge Freeman scheduled sentencing hearings for Contreras and Anthony on November 8, 2022.
According to the defendants’ guilty pleas and the evidence submitted at Mendoza’s trial, Guizar-Cuellar was the leader, primary facilitator, enforcer, and main financial beneficiary of the operation. Guizar-Cuellar admitted that over a 16-month period, he and the other three defendants established and operated an illegal prostitution enterprise that exploited numerous women and children. Guizar-Cuellar acknowledged in his plea agreement that he and the other defendants, operated a commercial sex venture and recruited, enticed, harbored, and transported several minor females to work as prostitutes and exotic dancers. Guizar-Cuellar rented rooms at various hotels and motels in San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale, Calif., for prostitution activities and told minor females not to tell anyone that they were minors. The youngest of the victims recruited into the prostitution enterprise were 15 years old at the time. Court records in the case demonstrate that the defendants received thousands of dollars from the prostitution of their victims and then flaunted the profits in part to recruit more victims.
The documents in the case provide a harrowing description of the treatment of the minor victims. According to trial evidence and testimony, Guizar-Cuellar subjected both the child victims and his female co-defendants to physical and sexual abuse. In addition, the victims were shuttled daily throughout the Bay Area and sexually exploited. They were isolated from their families and support systems; deprived of food and sleep; and given cocaine, alcohol, and other substances to keep them compliant. They were deliberately supplied methamphetamine to keep them awake so they could meet nightly profit quotas. Defendants posted online prostitution advertisements repeatedly over many months using pictures of the children posed naked and in provocative lingerie. After one victim escaped and returned home, Guizar-Cuellar sought to shame her by distributing videos of the victim engaged in sexual intercourse with a customer on social media sites—the government’s sentencing memorandum describes how Guizar-Cuellar, Mendoza, and Anthony all are heard on the video clips mocking the girl and laughing at her.
A federal grand jury indicted all four defendants on April 7, 2016. Guizar-Cuellar was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; three counts of sex trafficking of children, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591; and one count of sexual exploitation of children, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251. On May 7, 2019, Guizar-Cuellar pleaded guilty to all the charges. Mendoza was charged in the original and superseding indictments with conspiracy and three counts of sex trafficking of children. On October 6, 2021, a jury convicted Mendoza of the conspiracy charge and one of the child sex trafficking counts.
In addition to the prison terms, Judge Freeman also ordered Guizar-Cuellar and Mendoza to serve terms of supervised release and to pay restitution to their victims. Guizar-Cuellar remains in federal custody following the imposition of his sentence. Judge Freeman ordered Mendoza to self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons in January 2023.
Contreras and Anthony both pleaded guilty to separate superseding Informations charging them with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children. Contreras entered her plea on September 4, 2019, and Anthony entered hers on July 21, 2020. Both await sentencing in November 2022.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marissa Harris, Annie Hsieh, and Sarah Griswold are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Nina Burney, Sahib Kaur, and Elise Etter. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI, the San Jose Police Department, and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Task Force.