Nine arrested in sprawling Santa Clara County sex-trafficking ring

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Santa Clara County prosecutors Tuesday announced nine arrests in what they said was a sprawling Bay Area sex-trafficking ring in which 18 prostitution victims from South America and Mexico were forced to work seven days a week in San Jose and East Bay hotel rooms. A criminal complaint identified those arrested as Jairo CardenasFonseca, 65, and Stella SalinasPena, 60, of San Jose; Michel Andreiw AyalaValdivieso, 33 and Angela Marlenn Ceuspinzon, 54, of Coalinga; Gladis Celis, 49, Jair Hernando OrtizSalinas, 48, and Kristhian OrtizCelis, 23, of Lake Elsinore; Juan Sebastian MoraMurrillo, 23, and Alexander LopezMachado, 18, of Gilroy. The suspects have been charged with crimes ranging from human trafficking and conspiracy to commit human trafficking to pimping, pandering, and money laundering in what prosecutors called one of the largest trafficking operations in the state and the first wiretap-based trafficking case in Santa Clara County. “Slavery was outlawed in this country in 1865. In 2023 we will not tolerate its despicable resurgence,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “This operation is a testament to the dedicated and determined federal, state, and local authorities who are speaking as one to say human beings are not chattel.” The District Attorney’s Office said the women who were being trafficked are being provided counseling, medical care, housing assistance and other services. One of the victims, an underaged teenager from a South American country, was located on Thursday during the takedown of the operation. She was taken to the District Attorney’s Office Advocacy Center for care. Prosecutors said the prostitution ring operated illegal brothels at multiple locations, including apartments and hotels scattered around San Jose and Hayward. The alleged traffickers “used the ill-gotten and laundered proceeds to further a lavish lifestyle,” prosecutors said, adding authorities seized more than $200,000 in cash and froze assets including cryptocurrency. The state Department of Justice, FBI, police in San Jose, Santa Clara, Gilroy, Hayward and Sacramento, the Alameda County Sheriff and other authorities joined in the case they dubbed “Operation Phoenix.”

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