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Saturday, December 14, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Pacific NW

Benton City man gets 30-year federal sentence for prostituting teens at labor camps

By Kristin M. Kraemer Tri-City Herald

A Benton City man will spend 30 years in federal prison for forcing two girls to have sex with customers at migrant labor camps and motels and keeping the earnings for himself.

Roberto L. Llerenas Jr., 36, reportedly planned his sex trafficking scheme around when migrant workers got paid and the location of their camps near Pasco and Wenatchee.

He then drove the 15-year-old girls to the camps and handed a condom to a customer after taking their cash.

Llerenas denied prostituting the teens in mid-2013.

However, a jury took just over two hours June 30 to convict him in U.S. District Court in Richland.

Jurors returned guilty verdicts on two counts each of sex trafficking of children and financially benefiting from sex trafficking. Each count included the allegation that the crimes involved force, fraud or coercion.

Senior Judge Ed Shea, in sentencing Llerenas on Friday, said the defendant “carried out a heartless plot to prostitute (the two victims) so that he would benefit financially.”

Shea described Llerenas as “cunning” and determined that he willfully obstructed justice when he offered “patently false” testimony and accused the victims of making up the charges against him.

The testimony of the victims and other witnesses was convincing and supported the four verdicts, the judge said.

Both victims testified at trial about how Llerenas used manipulation, coercion, threats and sometimes violence to cause them to engage in prostitution and to prevent them from reporting the crimes to authorities.

Llerenas charged $50 for a sex act with either girl, or a $150 flat rate for each girl for the evening, court documents show.

The girls often were plied with alcohol, and the sex acts with strangers typically happened in the communal shower, but also in tents and vehicles, documents show.

On occasion, Llerenas reportedly paid a man to act as security, buy supplies and help collect money.

“Defendant Llerenas’ conduct entailed preying on the vulnerabilities of children for his personal benefit, regardless of the impact on the victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Gregoire and James Goeke wrote in a court document before sentencing. “Simply put, (Llerenas) saw an opportunity to make money and he immediately took it, with no regard for the lifelong cost to the children involved.”

The case was investigated by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Llerenas claimed he did not get a fair trial, saying the jail where he was being held did not give him his medicine on the last two days of trial.

Shea denied the request for a new trial, saying he had observed Llerenas’ behavior at previous court proceedings and reviewed medical evaluations, and did not see anything that would have affected the defendant’s ability to assist his attorney, according to court records.

Llerenas sentencing hearing started Wednesday with statements from the victims, their relatives and Llerenas’ family members.

One girl said the crime made her feel lost and that she is able to “remember it all so well,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Washington.

The other teen explained “she had to numb her feelings and set aside her emotions to get through the trafficking, but that she still holds in a lot of pain,” the release said.

Llerenas reportedly collapsed on the ground after he addressed the court. Shea took a recess.

Back in court Friday, Shea found that Llerenas was attempting to avoid being sentenced and he went forward with the hearing.

Llerenas must register as a sex offender and complete an approved treatment program. He also will be on supervised release for the rest of his life.

He is to have no contact with the victims.

“I commend the victims for their incredible courage in coming forward and testifying at great length in this case,” U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby said in the news release. “The damage Llerenas caused the two victims for his own selfish benefit is immeasurable.”

Ormsby further said the sentence handed down by Shea reflects the seriousness of Llerenas’ conduct.

“Federal, state and local authorities will continue to investigate allegations of child exploitation, and our office will continue to zealously prosecute those who sexually exploit minors and other vulnerable members of our society,” he said.

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