NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Two people from Nashville were charged
with the sex trafficking of children after authorities said they smuggled a 13-year-old girl into the U.S. from Mexico and forced her into a life of prostitution in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
Juan Mendez and Cristina Andres Perfecto were arrested last week
and named Thursday in a complaint filed in federal court in Memphis.
Federal officials in Memphis said it is the first case to their knowledge involving children smuggled into Tennessee to be forced into the sex trade.
"Obviously, we're concerned about it, and it's certainly our intention to keep this investigation going," said Lee Anne Jordon, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Memphis. Authorities said it's too early to tell how large the ring was or whether all perpetrators have been found.
The girl, now 15, is the only juvenile victim identified, Jordon
said. But court documents say the victim's cousin and other women also have been forced to sell their bodies. Like the teen, officials said, they were lured to this country by a promise of honest jobs in the U.S. so they could send money back to their families.
Mendez's wife told The Tennessean newspaper Friday that she didn't know anything about the charges and that she had not seen her husband in more than a week.
Maria Rita Hernandez said through an interpreter that she has lived in Nashville for five years and that she and Mendez have two children, ages 5 and 1. A series of raids at Memphis brothels led federal authorities to Mendez and Perfecto, FBI agent Randy Thysse said.
After the raids, a man the girl had befriended who ran a brothel
in Memphis tipped off federal authorities about the trafficking ring and about the girl. Authorities found the girl and placed her in the custody of the state Department of Children's Services, where she will get
counseling and any other treatment she needs, DCS spokesman Rob
Johnson said. Eventually, he said, the goal will be to reunite her
with her family.
"Under the circumstances, given all that's happened, this
girl's doing well," Johnson said. Court documents say that in August 2005 Perfecto went to the girl's family in Mexico and told them that Mendez, her boyfriend, could help the girl get a job as a waitress in a Nashville restaurant.
She assured the girl's family that she would make enough money
to send some back home. Perfecto, authorities said, told the girl that she and Mendez would have to pay smugglers $3,000 to get her into the U.S. and that she would have to repay that when she started working.
Once in Nashville, Mendez raped the girl and threatened to kill her family if she did not work as a prostitute, according to court documents. She was 14 at the time.
Two weeks later, court documents say, Mendez took her to a
Kentucky brothel and forced her to have sex with 14 people on the
first day. Afterward she was sick with a headache and severe pelvic
inflammation and had to be hospitalized for several days.
Mendez let her rest for two weeks after her release from the hospital but then forced her to work as a prostitute in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Birmingham, Ala., and other cities, the federal documents say.
She was never allowed to leave unescorted and never ran away
because she was afraid for her family, the account says.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)