WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — When Winston-Salem police and a federal agent searched a house in the 4300 block of Robinhood Road last March, they found a naked woman lying on a mattress, a federal court document shows.
The woman told the investigators that she was Mexican national and had entered the United States illegally. She said she was forced to work as a prostitute after she was fired from her job cleaning houses in Raleigh.
“She claimed to have provided commercial sexual services to numerous men throughout her stay,” the document says.
The woman said she had been at the house, which is between Shattalon Drive and Milhaven Road, for three days.
She then told the investigators that she had seen 19 male customers during her time there, and that each had paid her $30 for 15 minutes of sexual activity, the document says.
The investigators’ search of that house was part of their probe of an organized prostitution ring that moved woman and girls in and out of North Carolina, including to brothels in Winston-Salem. Their investigation led to the arrests of 40 people, including 30 in Winston-Salem.
Lorenzo Espinal Almonte, 34, was charged with interstate commerce to facilitate prostitution, according to the document. Almonte told investigators that he worked as the caretaker of brothel on Robinhood Road and would collect money from the men the woman had sex with.
A federal prosecutor dismissed the charge against Almonte in September 2013.
Lynne Klauer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Greensboro, couldn’t be reached Friday to comment on why the charge was dismissed.
Almonte was among seven people whom city police identified as having key roles in the prostitution ring. Three of them were convicted of state charges related to prostitution and sentenced to short jail and prison terms.
Vincent Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement, declined to say whether the defendants and the victims are illegal immigrants, citing federal privacy laws.
Brock Nicholson, a special agent in charge with ICE in Atlanta, said that the prostitution ring preyed on vulnerable women from Mexico and Central America.
“Some were enticed,” Nicholson said. “They were smuggled into the United States and went right into prostitution. They have been victims for years. These women and girls are someone’s daughters, someone’s children. They are being raped as children and forced into prostitution.”
The federal court records of two other defendants involved in the ring provide details of how the ring’s leaders brought at least two women to Winston-Salem, forced them into prostitution and how one of the prostitutes, Ondina Lizeht Alonso-Hernandez, forced another woman into the trade.
Alonso-Hernandez, 32, of Southwin Drive was charged with the federal offense of human trafficking. Alonso-Hernandez was accused of recruiting, harboring, and transporting a woman to work as a prostitute in December 2010, federal court documents show.
A year later, Alonso-Hernandez pleaded guilty to that charge in U.S. District Court in Greensboro. Her attorney, Stacy Rubain of Winston-Salem told Judge Catherine Eagles that Alonso-Hernandez grew up in Honduras, where her father physically abused her, her mother and her brothers, according to another document.
Alonso-Hernandez later had two children by her boyfriend in Honduras, Rubain told the judge. Alonso-Hernandez’s father sent her to the United States because her boyfriend was physically abusing her.
Alonso-Hernandez was 19 at the time.
Rubain said that her client had legitimate jobs working in restaurants and bars in Florida. After her father died, though, Alonso-Hernandez turned to prostitution to earn money for her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer, Rubain said.
Alonso-Hernandez suffered another tragedy when her former boyfriend in Honduras killed one of her brothers.
Alonso-Herandez apologized to Eagles for her actions.
“I am not proud of what I did,” Alonzo-Hernandez said, according to transcript of her court hearing. “I am truly repentant for it. We are all human beings, and I think as human beings, we all do make mistakes.”
Eagles then sentenced Alonso-Hernandez to serve three years in prison, put her on two years of supervised probation after she is released and ordered her to surrender to a federal immigration officer to be deported, a court record shows.
In a related case, Mauro Aparicio-Hernandez, 51 of Fitch Street, pleaded guilty in federal court to the offense of importation of an alien for an immoral purpose.
Aparicio-Hernandez was accused forcing a woman to work as a prostitute for him in his house on Fitch Street in November 2010, a federal court document says. A judge sentenced Aparicio-Hernandez to serve two years in prison.