ATLANTA - Juan Cortes-Meza enticed uneducated, impoverished women and girls from rural Mexico to come to the United States, where a better life, he claimed, awaited them as restaurant workers or housekeepers.
In reality, Cortes-Meza would smuggle the women and girls to metro Atlanta - including a home near Norcross - intending to use them as sex slaves, forcing them into prostitution by way of strict controls and physical violence.
A key member in the underground sex ring, Cortes-Meza, 31, of Mexico, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to sex-trafficking charges. He faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.
The case brings to light what experts call a scourge of sexually exploited minors in Georgia. Child advocacy group "A Future. Not A Past" estimates more than 200 young girls are exploited across the state every month.
"Human trafficking is modern day slavery," said U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias in a release. "(It) robs individuals of their freedom and can have lasting psychological harm."
Federal laws protect all victims of sex-trafficking crimes, whether or not they are citizens, Nahmias said.
Two of the six male co-defendants in the Cortes-Meza case have yet to enter pleas, authorities said.
Also on Thursday, an alleged driver, Otto Jaime Larios Perez, 25, of Guatemala, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to law enforcement. He drove at least six of the victims to locations where they engaged in prostitution, but lied when asked by investigators, authorities said.
The operation was apparently a family affair.
In the last year, Cortes-Meza's nephews - brothers Francisco and Raul Cortes-Meza - have pleaded guilty to sex-trafficking charges related to the smuggling of Mexican women and minors. They face between 10 years and life in prison.
Sentencing hearings for all defendants who've pleaded guilty are pending.