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Man sentenced for smuggling teen girls from Mexico for forced prostitution

SAN DIEGO - A man who had two teenage girls smuggled from Mexico to Vista to work as prostitutes in North County migrant camps was sentenced today to more than 24 years in federal prison.

Adrian Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez, 33, was convicted in January of 10 counts, including sex trafficking by force and harboring illegal aliens.

Zitlalpopoca's case ranks possibly in the top five of ''serious'' and ''callous'' criminal behavior that U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez said he's seen in his 13 years on the bench.

Benitez told the defendant that he preyed upon the emotions of the 17- and 18-year-old illegal immigrants, promising them a better life than they had in Mexico.

''You promised them marriage. You promised them love,'' the judge told the defendant. ''You were their entire world. I can't believe that anybody could really do this.''

In addition to the 292-month sentence, Benitez ordered Zitlalpopoca to repay the victims $1.4 million to cover what they could have earned had they not been forced into prostitution and cover therapy and other necessities.

Zitlalpopoca's attorney, Leila Morgan, argued unsuccessfully for a 15- year prison term for the defendant, who could have received up to 365 months behind bars.

''You've earned it. You deserve it,'' the judge said of the 292-month sentence he handed down.

Zitlalpopoca -- who was also in the United States illegally -- will be deported once he completes his prison sentence, the judge said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tenorio told the judge that the defendant targeted the 17-year-old victim after finding out that her boyfriend had left her.

Zitlalpopoca was violent and threatened both victims if they said they wanted to keep some of the money they earned or said they wanted to get out of prostitution, according to the prosecutor.

The victims had ''no other choice'' than to obey the defendant and were not willing participants in his prostitution ring, the prosecutor said.

One of the victims wrote in a letter to the court that she was satisfied that Zitlalpopoca would be going to prison, Tenorio said.

''She said this man has ruined part of her life,'' the prosecutor told the judge.

Zitlalpopoca expressed remorse and asked the judge for forgiveness before he was sentenced.

According to evidence presented at trial, the women were held at residences in Vista, and force, fraud or coercion was used to cause them to engage in sex acts.

Zitalpopoca was arrested in November 2008 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and San Diego County Sheriff's deputies conducted a joint investigation into an anonymous report of forced prostitution in the Vista area, prosecutors said.


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