Local and federal authorities are not sure how extensive the Charlotte sex rings have become. They say Flores’ [Jorge Flores Rojas] ring brought in hundreds of young women each year to work as prostitutes.
Flores was convicted of trafficking in April. But authorities say other pimps in Charlotte continue to prey on young girls from poor countries.
The growth is so extensive that this month ICE stationed a team of agents in Charlotte to focus on human trafficking, smuggling and exploitation. Across the Carolinas, immigrant sex rings have been broken up in Monroe, Durham and Columbia.
Jennifer Stuart, a staff attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina, says her office has seen a “sharp increase” in trafficking case referrals the last few months.
Federal agents say Flores, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, picked up vans full of eight to 10 young women each week outside the McDonald’s on West Sugar Creek Road near Interstate 85, where other traffickers had brought them. Others, he smuggled in directly from Latin America.
He favored teenagers because he could charge more. Clients paid $25 to $30 for 15 minutes with one of the girls. One teenage victim testified in court that, on many occasions, Flores would drive her to a house or an apartment where men would be waiting.
An undercover agent says the teenagers would be made to have sex with up to 100 men a week.
To keep a fresh cycle of women in Charlotte, Flores traded with traffickers, including relatives, in Washington, D.C., and New York.
In November 2007, court documents say, he “sold” at least two teenagers from Mexico to Yaneth Martinez, a D.C. madam, who advertised her services with cards offering “Hair Cuts for Men Only.”
Charlotte is particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. It’s the largest city between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., at the junction of two interstate highways.
In addition, the size of the city’s illegal immigrant community allows pimps like Flores to conceal their activities.
As with past waves of immigrants, many of the Latinos are men who left their families to find work. Many victims were lured here with promises of other jobs.
The women are often in the country illegally and dependent on their captors for food and shelter. They’re easy to coerce.
The FBI estimates that some 18,000 people are trafficked into the United States for sex or forced labor. About a fourth end up in the Southeast; thousands come to the Carolinas.
Most victims of the sex rings are from Latin America, others from Asia and Eastern Europe.
ICE is bringing in more agents and another supervisor to work on its new trafficking team. Victims will not be targeted for arrest or deportation, Special Agent Richburg said. Instead they will be offered special visas in exchange for their help prosecuting traffickers.