Eleven members or close associates of the MS-13 gang were arrested this week relating to the sexual exploitation and physical abuse of a minor in northern Virginia and Maryland.
“Sex traffickers often prey upon the most vulnerable victims in our society, and when combined with the horrific abuses of a gang like MS-13, the effects can be devastating,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “I have personally handled the prosecution of MS-13 members in northern Virginia for over a decade, including for gang-controlled sex trafficking, and I have led meaningful outreach efforts with the Hispanic community in order to raise public awareness of these serious threats. "
According to court documents, in August 2018, a 13-year-old girl ran away from a youth home in northern Virginia and was later introduced to members of MS-13.
Members of the gang beat the girl 26 times with a baseball bat as part of a gang initiation, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
Gang members then sex trafficked the girl in Virginia and Maryland using the currency of cash and drugs. While in Virginia, men lined up to have sex with her in a wooded area behind one target’s apartment complex, the criminal complaint said. The men gave her drugs in exchange for sex. She also was harbored in various apartments in northern Virginia where men paid her and her handlers cash for sex.
“MS-13 is known for their violence and intimidation, but the horrific crimes alleged in this case show how their cruelty and depravity know no bounds,” said Robert E. Bornstein, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division. “The FBI and our community will not stand by while children are beaten, plied with drugs, and trafficked for sex. We will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to disrupt violent gang activity and bring justice on behalf of the innocent victims on whom they prey.”
According to court documents, girl was later beaten again with a bat 26 times. After the second bat beating, she was taken to Maryland, where she was sold to numerous gang members and other customers in exchange for cash, according to court records.
Law enforcement recovered photographs and videos of the girl while being sexually exploited, along with numerous social media messages regarding the trafficking and sexual exploitation of the victim.
“Today’s arrests are a prime example of the commitment and dedication of local police officers and federal agents to safeguard northern Virginia against crime and violence,” said Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Chief of Fairfax County Police. “The Fairfax County police department will continue to use every resource and leverage the full weight of our agency and our federal partners to prevent violence by interdicting organized crime and holding alleged criminal street gangs accountable.”
Among the arrested are:
Moises Orlando Zelaya-Veliz, 25, Woodbridge: Sex trafficking a minor victim under the age of 14 in or effecting interstate commerce.
Sioni Alexander Bonilla Gonzalez, 20, Woodbridge: Sex Trafficking of a Minor and Violent Crime in Aid of Racketeering Activity through assault with a dangerous weapon.
Carlos Jose Turicios Villatoro, 22, Woodbridge: VICAR Assault.
Jose Eliezar Molina-Veliz, 20, Woodbridge: Sex Trafficking of a Minor.
Santos Ernesto Gutierrez Castro, 21, Woodbridge: Sex Trafficking of a Minor
Luis Alberto Gonzales, 31, Greenbelt: Sex Trafficking of a Minor
Reina Elizabeth Hernandez, 48, Hyattsville: Sex Trafficking of a Minor
Nelson Ezequiel Caballero Portillo, 24, College Park, Maryland: Sex Trafficking of a Minor.
Gilberto Morales, 31, Hyattsville, Maryland: Sex Trafficking of a Minor
Jonathan Rafael Zelaya-Veliz, 24. Hyattsville: Sex Trafficking of a Minor
Orlando Alexis Salmeron Funez, 38, Riverdale, Maryland: Sex Trafficking of a Minor
If convicted, each defendant charged with sex trafficking of a minor faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison, and each defendant charged with VICAR assault faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of that offense.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The case also is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.