ATLANTA - A Mexican man was convicted Tuesday on federal charges of orchestrating a sex trafficking scheme in which prosecutors say he lured impoverished young Mexican women to the Atlanta area with false promises of better lives, high-paying jobs and even hints of romance.
Amador Cortes-Meza, 36, could face life in prison after a jury in U.S. District Court convicted him of the 19 counts he was facing, including sex trafficking of minors, conspiracy and smuggling charges for bringing the women to metro Atlanta and then making them work as prostitutes. A sentencing date has not been set.
Prosecutors said Cortes-Meza and several of his relatives targeted uneducated women and then paid smugglers to bring them across the border illegally. They said he even convinced a 14-year-old girl that he loved her to get her to make the trip. In all, he was accused of bringing at least 10 women to the area between spring 2006 and June 2008.
But when the women arrived, prosecutors say Cortes-Meza was transformed into a ruthless pimp. The women said they were forced to work as prostitutes indefinitely to repay transportation costs and living expenses. And if they didn't, they often faced consequences.
Some days, prosecutors said, Cortes-Meza brutally beat the women with irons, electric cords and other items. At other times, he threatened to go after a loved one. A victim testified during the two-week trial that Cortes-Meza told her he would kill her parents in Mexico if he were ever arrested.
Soon, prosecutors say, the women were caught in a complex operation.
Cortes-Meza arranged for drivers to pick up the girls and drive them to clients throughout greater Atlanta and as far away as North Carolina. New women would sometimes be forced to perform sexual acts with more than 20 people on their first night, and on busy nights with more than 40 customers, according to court testimony.
Cortes-Meza's defense attorneys contended that prosecutors couldn't prove their client forced the women into prostitution, a key to proving several of the counts. But prosecutors said they had overwhelming evidence indicating that the women did not willingly work for Cortes-Meza.
"He treated these women like merchandise, like goods for sale, something he could just import into Georgia to fatten his wallet," federal prosecutor Karima Maloney said in opening arguments.
Authorities said Cortes-Meza is the latest in his family to face prison - his brother Juan and two nephews have already been sentenced to years behind bars on similar charges. U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the case provided a "glimpse into the monstrous world of human trafficking."
"This defendant preyed on the most vulnerable of victims - girls and young women hoping for a better life," she said. "We are committed to giving voice to the victims of these horrific crimes and holding the defendants accountable."