Ring brought prostitutes from several states to Lexington, FBI agent testifies

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 23, 2011 

Five people charged in a prostitution ring appeared for a preliminary hearing in Fayette District Court before Judge Kim Wilkie. At least one of the women working as prostitutes might have been a victim of human trafficking. From left: Roberto Salinas-Rivera, Danella Santos-Evangelista, Mario Antonio Flores (standing), Roxana Olea Serna, and Adrian Lezama-Ruiz.

CHARLES BERTRAM

A prostitution ring in Lexington charged men $30 for each sex act and brought prostitutes from several states to Lexington long enough to have sex with dozens of men before shipping them off again, a FBI investigator testified Tuesday.

At least one of the prostitutes in the "large-scale operation" involving cities including Indianapolis, Nashville and Atlanta, might have been a victim of human trafficking, said Mark Evans, a detective with the FBI's Criminal Enterprise Task Force.

Last week, Evans, working with Lexington police, charged Mario Antonio Flores, Roberto Salinas-Rivera, Adrian Lezama-Ruiz and Roxana Olea Serna with engaging in organized crime and promoting prostitution; each is accused of being a "handler" of the prostitutes, coordinating their arrivals and departures. Danella Santos-Evangelista, accused of being one of the organization's prostitutes, was charged with one count of engaging in organized crime.

They have pleaded not guilty. Their cases were waived to a grand jury at a preliminary hearing in Fayette District Court Tuesday.

Evans said investigators interviewed another woman acting as a prostitute for the organization, but she was not arrested because investigators are trying to determine whether she is a victim of human trafficking.

The woman "was told by Mrs. Olea (Serna) that she would come here to work at a cleaning service," Evans said. "She said that when she arrived, there was no cleaning service, and this is what she was led to."

The woman also told investigators that her pay was withheld by Serna. Her story is being investigated, and charges could be pending, he said.

Flores, Serna and Salinas-Rivera all lived at a home at 923 Delaware Avenue, off Winchester Road, which was a base of operations, Evans said. According to court documents, Flores was a leader in the organization, employing Serna, Salinas-Rivera and Lezama-Ruiz to take prostitutes all over Kentucky to meet customers.

Lezama-Ruiz also operated a brothel out of his Cross Keys Road Apartment, where prostitutes frequently had sex with men for money, Evans said. That apartment was raided, and Evans described it as "set up like a doctor's office."

"The living room would be like a waiting room, with folding chairs and couches set up," he said. "The bedroom had two beds divided by a curtain."

Investigators found "ledger books" at each location that contained names of several prostitutes who had performed services for the organization and the number of men they had slept with.

According to the books, prostitutes sometimes "had sex with over 50 people in a week," Evans said.

The investigation began in September, Evans said. Investigators conducted extensive surveillance on the organization in October before making the arrests Nov. 15.

Each of the five suspects had an attorney who argued their cases individually. If one of them had gotten the criminal syndicate charges dropped, the charges would have been dropped for the rest of the suspects; according to state law, there must be five defendants to warrant organized-crime charges.

Defense attorney Rawl Kazee, who represented Lezama-Ruiz, argued that investigators wrongfully charged Lezama-Ruiz with two charges for one crime, which was promoting prostitution, a misdemeanor.

"Promoting prostitution is the basis for the organized crime," he said after the hearing. "My argument was, you have to pick one."

District Judge Kim Wilkie said that he was inclined to agree with Kazee, but that a Fayette County grand jury would decide before waiving the five cases.

The suspects are being held at the Fayette County jail on bonds between $8,000 and $16,000.