Queens man sentenced to life in violent sex trafficking case

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NEW YORK — A Queens man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in connection with his leadership of a long-running sex trafficking conspiracy that employed force, fraud, and coercion to sell young women for sex against their wills. The investigation leading to this life sentence was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents assigned to New York.

Isaias Flores-Mendez, 42, was also ordered to forfeit approximately $1.7 million, and to pay $84,000 in restitution to a victim of his crime. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The defendant viciously robbed the victims in this case of their freedom, their dignity, and their fundamental human rights. Although the victims of the defendant's crimes will never be made whole, his prosecution and today's sentence hopefully signal to them and everyone else that such atrocities cannot be tolerated in our society and will be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law."

"This defendant will spend the rest of his life behind bars for enslaving a young woman and violently forcing her into a life of prostitution for his own enrichment," said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes. "The exploitation of vulnerable young women and children in our nation is a problem that demands a strong response from law enforcement. HSI special agents are on the front lines of this battle every day, seeking out victims and bringing their tormentors to justice."

According to the indictment, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including today's sentencing:

Since at least 1999, when he was first arrested for promoting prostitution, Flores-Mendez has been sexually exploiting vulnerable women for his own financial gain. His predatory crimes have ranged in scope over the years.

He used violence and threats of violence to personally force at least one young woman ("Victim-1") to engage in prostitution against her will. At the age of 17, Victim-1 was romanced by Flores-Mendez, and lured to the U.S. with the promise of a better life for her and her baby. Once in New York, Victim-1 was made to sleep on a floor with her child, was repeatedly beaten, and was verbally abused on a regular basis by Flores-Mendez, who sexually enslaved Victim-1 and made her work as a prostitute against her will for his own financial gain. When she tried to resist, she was beaten and abused. On one such occasion, Flores-Mendez pushed her and her young child outside on a cold winter night, locked the door, and refused to let her back in. Afraid that her baby would die, Victim-1 succumbed to Flores-Mendez‘s demands that she continue to be sold for sex. After she escaped, Flores-Mendez and his brother Bonifacio Flores-Mendez continued to torment her, on one occasion trying to run her over with his car.

Flores-Mendez also used threats of violence to force another woman ("Victim-A") to help teach Victim-1 how to handle customers, telling Victim-A that he would "break her in half" if she didn't comply.

In addition to his direct sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, Flores-Mendez also owned and operated a sprawling network of brothels in and around New York City that sexually exploited at least five women per day, each of whom was required to have sex with up to 20 customers per day under abhorrent conditions. Many of the victims of this sex trafficking-prostitution enterprise were forced to engage in prostitution against their wills.

Sixteen defendants in this case, including Bonifacio Flores-Mendez, have pleaded guilty, and one has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. All but four defendants have been sentenced. The defendants who have pleaded to date have agreed to forfeit, in total, more than $1.7 million.

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