January 15, 2008

Police accuse 5 of running underage prostitution ring

January 15, 2008

Original A liberal dose article: Police accuse 5 of running underage prostitution ring

FORT WORTH -- Police say they have broken up an underage prostitution ring in which Fort Worth gang members threatened and assaulted young girls until they agreed to have sex for money.

What makes the case even more disturbing, authorities say, is that some of the suspects are underage themselves.

Officers have arrested three juveniles -- including a 15-year-old girl Monday -- and a 17- and 19-year-old, who are legally adults, on suspicion of human trafficking and prostitution, police said.

Four victims ages 12 to 16 have been identified, they said.

'It's a unique situation; they are not your stereotypical pimps,' said Detective H. Murtaugh of the major case unit.

'This is human trafficking, and it's very sophisticated for such a young group.'

Four of the five suspects were arrested Jan. 3 after a tip led police to a southeast Fort Worth convenience store, where the suspects were found with a 14-year-old girl, police said. The suspects had brought the girl to the store to have sex with the owner, Chang Hyeong Lee, 56, who was a regular customer of the ring, investigators said.

Martin Reyes, 17, and Diego Armando Rodriguez, 19, and two boys ages 15 and 16 were arrested, police said. Lee was also arrested, according to a police report.

Most of the girls were runaways whom the suspects befriended by feigning affection for them, Murtaugh said. However, if the girls later refused to have sex for money, the relationship turned violent.

'They used various brutal tactics, including sexually assaulting the girls themselves,' major-case Sgt. J.D. Moore said. 'They also made threats against the girls and their families until they got what they wanted.'

The victims are now in 'safe places,' Murtaugh said. She declined to elaborate.

How the case unfolded

The investigation started in August in an east Fort Worth apartment complex, police said.

That's where police arrested Debra Flores Castillo, 32, after residents reported that she was going door to door offering sex with a 14-year-old runaway for $50.

Castillo was arrested and accused of compelling prostitution. A man [illegal alien Jorge Martinez, 32-40] who lived at the complex and took Castillo up on the offer was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault of a child.

The case led police to a larger investigation involving members of a south Fort Worth gang, Murtaugh said. The department's major-case, vice and human-trafficking units, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were involved.

The gang operated in south and southeast Fort Worth and generally took the girls to customers, Murtaugh said. Members often tried to find customers in apartment complexes with large numbers of undocumented immigrants.

In addition to the trafficking and prostitution charges, Rodriguez was in jail Monday on an immigration hold, said a jailer at the Mansfield Jail.

All of the young victims are from the Fort Worth area, Murtaugh said.

Gang members occasionally flashed a gun or knife in front of the girls but did not appear to have a store of weapons, Murtaugh said.

And although the management of the prostitution ring was sophisticated for such young suspects, they were not smart businessmen, she said.

'They didn't put the profit back into the business,' she said. 'They mostly bought drugs and beer.'

The investigation is ongoing, she said.

How it ended

On Jan. 3, police got the tip that led them to the convenience store, 1200 Glen Garden Drive. The suspects had arranged a rendezvous with the owner shortly after the store closed at 10 p.m., police said.

Officers arrived after the girl had been assaulted, Murtaugh said.

The store was known in the neighborhood as the 'minimart,' she said.

Reyes was in the Mansfield Jail on Monday evening with bail set at $350,000.

Rodriguez's bail was set at $170,000.

Both suspects face charges of human trafficking, promotion of prostitution, compelling prostitution and aggravated kidnapping.

Lee was in the Tarrant County Jail with bail set at $325,000. He faces charges of engaging in prostitution and aggravated kidnapping.

Of the three juvenile suspects, one who was arrested at the store has been released from custody but must wear a monitoring device, Murtaugh said.

'He's not one of the major players,' Murtaugh said. 'He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.'

As for the girls' families, she said, 'they're doing as well as one could expect, considering the family has learned what the girls have been involved with.'

Copyright © 2008 A liberal dose, All Rights Reserved.

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