BROOKLYN, New York. Sex trafficking was a family affair for the Melendez-Rojas brothers — and now they may spend the rest of their lives together in prison.
Mexican nationals Jose Osvaldo Melendez-Rojas, 43, Rosalio Melendez-Rojas, 38, Jose Miguel Melendez-Rojas, 43 and two Queens relatives were all found guilty of spending the last decade running an international sex trafficking ring where girls were smuggled into the U.S. with promises of a better life, then forced to work as prostitutes, authorities said.
A Brooklyn federal jury on Friday convicted the three brothers, along with nephew Francisco Melendez-Perez, 25, and cousin Abel Romero-Melendez, 33, of sex trafficking, money laundering, sex trafficking conspiracy and interstate prostitution.
During the two-week trial in Brooklyn Federal Court, several victims broke down in tears as they testified how the siblings would threaten their families if the girls didn’t do what they wanted.
At least six victims from ages 14 to early 20s were ferried to clients in apartments in Flushing and Corona in Queens. The five men created a bargain basement escort service, where drivers took the women to clients and charged $30 for a 15-minute session.
During a seven-hour shift, the girls would have sexual relations with 15 to 20 men, prosecutors said.
“Every night before each shift (the defendants) gave their victims a set of condoms,” federal prosecutor Erin Argo said in her closing argument. “And every night after each shift they counted the ones that remained to make sure they had gotten every cent their victims had been paid.”
Drivers also advertised the prostitution ring by handing out “chica cards” on main commercial strips like Roosevelt Ave. in Queens that had phone numbers where people can call and request prostitution services, Argo said.
Prosecutors during the trial referred to the sex-trafficking ring as a “family business” where the defendants used the same drivers and same condom suppliers. They would also meet to discuss how to best maximize profits, prosecutors said.
“The defendants smuggled these women into the United States and forced them, through threats, intimidation, and physical force, to have sex for money, for the defendants’ benefit,” Argo told the jury. “You know this, and the evidence proves it.
“These women are human beings, mothers, sisters, daughters. These are the women that the defendants intimidated and coerced and threatened and hit and raped,” Argo said. “No one should ever be treated like this.”
Federal investigators arrested the men in Mexico in 2018. A sixth man, Fabian Reyes-Rojas, already pleaded guilty to the charges in December, authorities said.