In a Brooklyn Federal Court yesterday, four members of a Queens-based family were found guilty of orchestrating an extensive underage prostitution ring that spanned years and crossed state lines into Connecticut.
Luz Elvira Cardona, 35, her mother Blanca Hernandez, 53, and their partners Jose Facundo Zarate Morales, 34, and Roberto Cesar Cid Dominguez, 60, were convicted on multiple charges, including the transportation of minors, sex trafficking, and bribery.
Harrowing Details Emerge
At the center of this shocking case was a 15-year-old girl who had left Mexico with the dream of a better life in the United States. The family cruelly exploited her naiveté, commodifying her virginity and subjecting her to the daily horrors of forced prostitution. Prosecutors revealed that the young girl was “rented out” to as many as 20 men daily.
“(The teen) knew nothing about these things until she arrived and moved into a house in Queens where she lived with all the defendants. Only then did she learn what her Aunt Luz had planned all along,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gillian Kassner.
Law Enforcement’s Dark Role
In an alarming twist, Wayne Peiffer, a police officer from the small hamlet of Brewster in Putnam County, New York, was revealed as a complicit actor in the operation. Peiffer granted the family safe passage through his jurisdiction in exchange for free access to prostitutes. These encounters even took place at the police station, according to the investigation.
“Today’s verdict is a milestone in the dismantling of a sex trafficking organization that exploited young women and minors, it is justice for the vulnerable victims who endured so much pain and suffering, and it is a reckoning for the perpetrators who will soon know the consequences for their deplorable crimes,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace announced yesterday.
The Larger Context: A Web of Crimes
This case is far from isolated. In just the past year, numerous similar cases have come to light. Last week, another man was convicted for luring sex workers from other states into New Jersey and then turning violent. In April, six individuals were indicted for running an underage prostitution operation out of a hotel in The Bronx. Gang members, motel owners, and even couples have faced prosecution for their roles in these unspeakable crimes.
In December 2021, several Hispanics were arrested for drug rings and prostitution in a New Jersey nightclub.
Sentencing and Future Implications
As for the family at the heart of yesterday’s conviction, Cid Dominguez faces a maximum sentence of 40 years, while the remaining three could be imprisoned for life. Peiffer, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, awaits sentencing and could face up to three years behind bars under federal guidelines.
A Warning from Authorities
Since 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has cautioned that the pandemic has led to an uptick in child pornography due to increased online activity among adults and children. Late last year, U.S. Attorney Melinda Katz also warned that much of this criminal activity tends to cluster around transportation hubs, noting the anonymity hotels provide.
The string of cases serves as a harsh reminder of the extent of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the country, which demands urgent attention and action.