Two people, part of a large prostitution ring that encompassed Fayette County, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Lexington.
In a plea deal with prosecutors, Marco Antonio Flores-Benitez, 38, identified in court documents as "somewhat of a leader" in the organization, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. His guilty plea and conviction on such a count is a first for the state, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
In another plea deal, Roxana Serna-Olea, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of inducing or persuading a person to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution.
Flores-Benitez and Serna-Olea, along with others, were arrested last fall and later indicted on several charges related to the criminal operation.
Spanish-speaking women from states including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Maryland were recruited or forced to come to Kentucky to work in prostitution under Flores-Benitez's direction, according to authorities.
Flores-Benitez and Serna-Olea operated a prostitution-delivery service for customers in Fayette, Woodford, Oldham and Jefferson counties, beginning in December 2006. They also operated a brothel on Cross Keys Road in Lexington. Flores-Benitez lived on Delaware Avenue in Lexington, where some of the prostitutes also stayed, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Marye said at Friday's court hearing.
"Obviously, this was part of a larger enterprise," Kerry Harvey, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said later in the day. "It certainly is bigger than what was happening in Lexington and in Kentucky."
Harvey said he didn't know exactly how the enterprise operated in other states, and that perhaps it might be best to describe the operation as a number of enterprises that were separate in some respects, but that cooperated in the exchanging of women.
"As you get into the details of it, it's truly horrific the way that some of these women were victimized," Harvey said.
Some of the women were forced into prostitution, Marye told Senior U.S. District Judge Karl Forester at Friday's hearing. One woman was told that her children would be killed if she did not work as a prostitute, Marye said.
Harvey said there were instances when women were enticed to come to Lexington or some other area with the promise of legitimate work, only to find out that there were no such jobs for them. They were then induced or persuaded to become prostitutes, he said.
In Kentucky, clients paid $30 for 15 minutes of sexual activity, and the women were expected by the defendants to deal with multiple customers each day, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
"We were very pleased to receive these guilty pleas today," Harvey said. He said Flores-Benitez's guilty plea is an "important landmark in our efforts to protect those who are very vulnerable to exploitation."
Harvey also praised agencies involved in the case, including the FBI, Lexington police, federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and the Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney's office.
Prosecutors recommended that Flores-Benitez receive 15 years in prison and that Serna-Olea be sentenced to 46 to 57 months, roughly four to five years.
The two are to be sentenced July 26. Forester told them they would probably be deported after serving their sentences.
Two other people involved in the case — Adrian Lezama-Ruiz, 26, and Roberto Salinas Rivera, 35 — previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to induce or persuade someone to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution. Each also pleaded guilty to a charge of aiding and abetting.