Nearly 2 1/2 years ago, an informant contacted Stockton detectives with the news that a brothel was operating on North San Joaquin Street in their city.
The information led the detectives, joined by FBI agents, into a long and winding investigation that culminated Friday in the arraignment of three people accused of operating five brothels including one in Sacramento using young, undocumented Latinas as prostitutes.
What is called a "human trafficking organization" operated brothels in Fairfield, Chico and Yuba City in addition to the ones in Sacramento and Stockton, court papers say.
The women were rotated weekly, usually on Sunday night, among the locations and were also used as prostitutes in Los Angeles, according to an affidavit of FBI Special Agent Rebekah Bills on file in Sacramento federal court. The women lived at the brothels and only left one to go to another, the affidavit says.
At least four of the women have been detained as material witnesses.
A majority of the women are from Mexico, but some were recruited in El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia, the agent relates in her affidavit. Spanish is their primary language and none speaks English. They range in age from 18 to 25.
The brothels were open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and $40 bought a john 15 minutes of intercourse.
Advertising consisted of organization members handing out business cards with phone numbers on them to Latinos, often at Central Valley flea markets, which attract a lot of farmworkers.
Roberto Urbina-Gonzalez, Everardo Ibarra "El Primo" Regalado and Corina Dominguez were arrested Jan. 17, based on a criminal complaint accompanied by Bills' 31-page affidavit. They were charged Thursday in a grand jury indictment with conspiracy and harboring an undocumented worker.
The affidavit identifies Dominguez as the manager of the Stockton brothel. The three defendants are in the country illegally, the affidavit says.
Urbina-Gonzalez, 35; Regalado, 43; and Dominguez, 25, pleaded not guilty Friday and are due back in court for a status conference next Friday.
They were earlier ordered held without bail as flight risks. There is a hold order on them from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Between August 2010, when the tidbit about the Stockton location was passed on to detectives, and two weeks ago, when the trio was arrested, investigators logged thousands of hours of physical surveillance watching johns go in and out of the brothels, and following the women as they were moved from one location to another. Sometimes they were moved in vehicles owned by members of the organization; other times they traveled by Greyhound bus.
The investigators also employed taps on cellular telephones; confidential informants who frequented the brothels, at times wearing recording devices; and more recently, searches of the brothels, vehicles used to transport the women and cellular telephones used by members of the organization to carry on the business.
The Greyhound bus station in Sacramento was a favorite place for exchanging women. Here is a typical surveillance summary from Bills' affidavit:
On Dec. 16 officers followed a Toyota Camry from the Sacramento brothel in the 6200 block of 37th Street to the bus station, where the Camry parked next to a Cadillac sedan and a Ford Windstar. Two Latinas got out of the Camry, which then left.
One of the women got into the Windstar. At the same time, two women got out of the Windstar and into the Cadillac, while a woman got out of the Cadillac and into the Windstar.
The Windstar went to the Yuba City brothel. There is no information as to where the Cadillac went.