Eleven members or close associates of the MS-13 gang were arrested this week in connection to the sexual exploitation and physical abuse of a 13-year-old girl who was sex-trafficked for drugs and money from several locations in Northern Virginia and Maryland, including residences in Woodbridge.
Five of those arrested were from Woodbridge. The arrests are in connection to abuse suffered by the girl, who ran away in from a group home in Fairfax County in August 2018 with a 16-year-old acquaintance, according to court documents.
The two were later introduced to MS-13 gang members in Dale City, some of whom beat the 13-year-old with a baseball bat and trafficked her for sex and drugs from Aug. 27 to Oct. 11, 2018, according to court documents.
During the course of her abuse, the girl was beaten with a baseball bat 26 times on two different occasions as part of a gang initiation. At least one of those beatings took place in a garage in the area of Eastlawn Avenue in Dale City, the documents said.
Gang members then sex-trafficked the girl in Virginia and Maryland using the currency of cash and drugs, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.
“While in Virginia, men lined up to have sex with her in a wooded area behind one target’s apartment complex. The men gave her drugs in exchange for sex. She also was harbored in various apartments in northern Virginia where men paid her and her handlers’ cash for sex,” the press release said.
Law enforcement recovered photographs and videos of the victim being sexually exploited, along with numerous social media messages regarding the victim’s trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The girl was rescued on Oct. 11, 2018, from an apartment in Mt. Rainer, Maryland, by the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force. Law enforcement officers became aware of the two girls on Sept. 4, 2018, when the older girl was caught shoplifting in a Prince William County Target store, according to court documents.
The 16-year-old was arrested, but the 13-year-old girl was let go because police determined she was not involved in the theft from the store. A Fairfax County police detective tracked down the younger victim after reviewing surveillance video of the two girls at the Target store and obtaining more information about the younger girl’s whereabouts, according to court documents.
“Sex traffickers often prey upon the most vulnerable victims in our society, and when combined with the horrific abuses of a gang like MS-13, the effects can be devastating,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement.
Terwilliger added that he has “personally handled the prosecution of MS-13 members in northern Virginia for over a decade, including for gang-controlled sex trafficking.”
“I have led meaningful outreach efforts with the Hispanic community in order to raise public awareness of these serious threats. As I’ve noted before, no one suffers more at the hands of MS-13 than other individuals of Central American birth or ancestry, and cases like this are proof of the need for community leaders to step up, acknowledge this reality, and work together to be part of the solution,” Terwilliger said.
The 11 individuals arrested include:
- Moises Orlando Zelaya-Veliz, 25, of Woodbridge, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Sioni Alexander Bonilla Gonzalez, 20, of Woodbridge, has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor and violent crime in aid of racketeering activity through assault with a dangerous weapon
- Carlos Jose Turicios Villatoro, 22, of Woodbridge, has been charged with violent crime in aid of racketeering activity through assault with a dangerous weapon
- Jose Eliezar Molina-Veliz, 20, of Woodbridge, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Santos Ernesto Gutierrez Castro, 21, of Woodbridge, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Luis Alberto Gonzales, 31, of Greenbelt, Maryland, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Reina Elizabeth Hernandez, 48, of Hyattsville, Maryland, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Nelson Ezequiel Caballero Portillo, 24, of College Park, Maryland, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Gilberto Morales, 31, of Hyattsville, Maryland, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Jonathan Rafael Zelaya-Veliz, 24, of Hyattsville, Maryland, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
- Orlando Alexis Salmeron Funez, 38, of Riverdale, Maryland, has been charged with sex trafficking a minor
If convicted, each defendant charged with sex trafficking of a minor faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison. Each defendant charged with VICAR assault faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of that offense, the release said.
Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.
This case also is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime and is “the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts,” the press release said.
This case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, which is composed of FBI agents and task force officers from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the Fairfax County police, the Arlington County police, the Alexandria City police, the Prince William County police and other surrounding agencies.