HOUSTON (CN) - A Houston woman who made more than $1.6 million by prostituting underage immigrant women at her bar was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.
Sixty-eight-year-old Hortencia Medeles-Arguello aka Raquel Medeles Garcia aka "Tencha" was convicted in a jury trial in April 2015 of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to harbor aliens, aiding and abetting money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Tencha is Central American Spanish for "prison."
Twelve victims testified during the 10-day trial that pimps recruited them in their home countries, and Medeles forced them into prostitution when they arrived in Houston.
Medeles owned a bar on Telephone Road in Houston, where she forced the women to prostitute themselves in second-floor rooms.
"Tencha made more than $1.6 million in a 19-month period by supplying the upper floor of her cantina for prostitutes to ply their trade," the U.S. Attorney's Office said, citing evidence presented at trial.
The jury heard evidence that Medeles had been forcing undocumented immigrants into prostitution for more than 13 years.
One victim testified that members of Medeles' sex trafficking ring forced her to have sex when she was 14.
"She described how she was forced to comply with demands at gunpoint and locked in a room. She was eventually impregnated by a 'customer' and was moved to another area of the bar because she was not worth as much once she became pregnant," prosecutors said.
A customer helped her escape from the bar.
Many of Medeles' 14 co-defendants were her family members, and pleaded guilty to involvement in the ring. These include Medeles' brother, Abel Medeles, 67, and her sister, Odelia Hernandez, 47, who served as lookouts for law enforcement at the bar.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced Abel Medeles to 55 months in prison and Hernandez to 66 months.
Two of Medeles' daughters received lighter sentences after testifying against her.
Graciela Medeles Ochoa, 37, was an accountant for the brothel and cashed cashier's checks for her mother that were obtained with prostitution proceeds.
Hittner sentenced her to 18 months in prison.
Diana Medeles Garcia aka Diana Garcia Marquez, 50, got 21 months for helping harbor illegal aliens.
Medeles' son David Garcia, 46, was convicted of harboring and aiding undocumented immigrants. He will be sentenced in February.
Hittner ordered Medeles to forfeit 15 real properties and other assets, worth a total of $2.5 million, which were bought with sex trafficking proceeds. The funds will be paid to the victims.
"These were human beings - women and children - who were treated as a commodity. They came from their home countries hoping for a better life, only to be enslaved and forced into unspeakable acts," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said.
Medeles has already appealed her sentence to the Fifth Circuit.
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