CHICAGO — A Venezuelan man in the United States illegally was part of a human trafficking operation that forced migrant women to work as prostitutes in Chicago and the suburbs, prosecutors said Tuesday. Chicago police officers freed two women from the trafficking operation after one of their captors took them to a West Side hospital for medical treatment over the weekend, according to officials.
The victims, Venezuelan women ages 20 and 22, and a third woman told investigators that they came to the United States in October with the help of a man named Victor. He forced them to work as prostitutes to pay back their “debt” to him, and he kept all of the money their clients paid.
The women escaped from Victor at the end of the year and fled to a hotel in Elgin, officials said. They told investigators they met a man in Elgin named Yession, who promised to protect them from Victor if they worked for him.
On Friday, Yession and three men went to the women’s Elgin hotel room with firearms, prosecutors said. The men took both women’s phones, told the women they owed them money, and forced them into separate cars, according to prosecutors.
The victims both ended up at the same place: a home in the 5000 block of West Gladys in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said 24-year-old Wilson Albeiro Vasquez Roman, a Venezuelan who is in the country illegally, held the women at gunpoint at the home. While they were there, different men, including Vasquez Roman, told the women they were going to be shipped out of state to be sex workers and threatened to harm the victims’ families, prosecutors said.
Vasquez Roman also held the women at gunpoint inside the home and once racked the firearm’s slide to threaten one of the women, according to prosecutors.
On Saturday, one of the women required medical attention, and Vasquez Roman drove them both to Loretto Hospital so she could be treated. The woman told a hospital employee about what was happening to her, and the hospital notified the police.
Chicago police officers arrested Vasquez at the hospital. Prosecutors say he admitted to being involved in the trafficking operation for about a month, saying he and other men drove women to and from hotels. He said that he believed the women were being prostituted, officials said.
“These victims had nowhere to go and were held at gunpoint and forced to commit sex acts,” Judge Ankur Srivastava wrote in a detention order that will keep Vasquez Roman in jail.
He is charged with two felony counts of trafficking for labor, two felony counts of unlawful restraint, and misdemeanor aggravated assault.
Rumors of migrants being forced into sex work have circulated for over a year.
The Chicago Police Department is investigating a number of other cases, including one that emerged at a West Loop migrant shelter in October.
In that case, a 16-year-old girl living at a migrant shelter in the 300 block of North Ogden was being sexually exploited by a 22-year-old male migrant who lived in the same facility, according to a CPD report. The report said the man threatened to beat and kill the girl.
No charges have been filed in that case.