RIO GRANDE CITY — Three men allegedly raped and abused Mexican girls brought across the Rio Grande to work as prostitutes.
Rio Grande City police uncovered the alleged sex trafficking ring during a March 17 traffic stop. Federal authorities have opened their own investigation in the case, as well.
But the local criminal charges lodged in the case allege that the juvenile girls — as young as 13 years old — had been brought into the city to work as prostitutes and were sexually abused by their smugglers, as well.
Arrested were Juan Antonio Garcia and Juan Chavarria, 25, who were found riding with a 13-year-old girl and did not have identification.
Police called in U.S. Border Patrol, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who took the girl and her purported captors into custody.
The 13-year-old girl told investigators she and the two others had been smuggled across the Rio Grande from Camargo, federal court documents state. The girl said she was being kept at a beige apartment along Chapote Street in Rio Grande City.
Garcia, 31, told investigators he met the 13-year-old girl at a bar in Camargo and worked with a friend to smuggle the three girls into the United States.
Authorities also arrested the man purportedly guarding the stash house, Jorge Eutacio Martinez, 45, who allegedly held the girls at gunpoint and kept them from leaving the property, the federal complaint states.
The three men face human smuggling charges in U.S. District Court. Federal authorities have not publicly identified the case one involving human trafficking, which carries stiffer penalties for suspects convicted of holding people against their will to work, often as prostitutes.
Garcia and Chavarria, face three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine. Martinez was formally charged with unlawful restraint, a state jail felony punishable by a maximum of two years in a county jail and up to a $10,000 fine. They will face state charges after their federal cases are resolved, police said.
Authorities continue to look for a fourth suspect, Ricardo Torres, 17, who also faces state charges in the alleged sex trafficking case.
Federal authorities are holding the 13-year-old girl, an illegal immigrant, in custody without bond as a material witness in the case.
Court documents filed by Rio Grande City police were not immediately available late Wednesday afternoon.
Jared Taylor covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4439.