In San Diego, a federal judge sentenced a man to two decades in prison for a crime he described as the “most evil” conduct.
Adrian Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez, 35, was sentenced Tuesday to more than 21 years in prison for smuggling two teenage girls into the U.S. and using them as prostitutes.
Prosecutors say Zitlalpopoca stole the innocence of two naive, teenaged girls with the promise of happily ever after.
“He romanced them,” said Homeland Security deputy Special Agent Mike Carney. “He led them to believe he was in love with them.”
The next two years went from a dream to a nightmare.
The girls, ages 17 and 18, were smuggled into the United States from Mexico and held at homes in Vista.
Zitlalpopoca regularly drove them to secluded fields in the area where they would have sex for money and give him the profits.
The girls would sometimes have 10 to 20 clients each day.
“The defendant took all of their money and fully controlled them and profited from their misery,” Carney said.
Longtime human rights advocate Enrique Morones said human trafficking can happen to any of us.
“The young ladies are scared to death. They are threatened that their families will be killed if they do anything about it if they try to get away,” Morones said.
Such was the case for these two.
A tipster reported Zitlalpopoca to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
When the girls were first questioned by authorities, the victims denied it.
“They get caught up in this psychological trauma and they don't know what to do,” Morones explained.
Now, both victims are living in the San Diego area and are working toward their citizenship with help from the victim/witness program.
Often, victims fear being deported if they testify. The U.S. Attorney's policy is to grant U Visas if the victims wish to stay in the U.S.
Zitlalpopoca appealed his 2010 convictions and was successful at getting three years lopped off his sentence, but he'll still serve over two decades in prison.
Federal Judge Roger Benitez justified the punishment, calling this crime the “most evil” conduct he had ever heard.
Investigators and prosecutors hope the 21-year sentence sends a strong message to others who don't consider the damage done to innocent lives by sexual slavery.