Feds: Woman ran prostitution ring from SC home, used women in country illegally for sex work

Updated: Sep. 26, 2019 at 8:00 PM EDT
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GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCSC) - Women who are living in the United States illegally were used as prostitutes inside a Goose Creek home, according to federal court documents.

A search warrant application and affidavit detail how authorities believe Maria Zavaleta-Perez transported “undocumented aliens” across state lines to her house on Plainfield Avenue to work as sex workers.

The residence is located just a couple hundred feet from Goose Creek High School off of Red Bank Road.

Neighbors say they heard and saw federal agents raid the home on Sept. 19. Court documents said agents found and seized approximately 100 packaged condoms and several bottles of personal lubricant gel.

Zavaleta-Perez was arrested and interviewed by authorities the same day. She explained to agents that the prostitutes come from Atlanta, Charlotte, Virginia, Florida, Maryland and New York. Profits from the clients are split 50/50 between the women and her.

“The prostitutes or ‘girls’ charge $30, but sometimes there is an additional charge of $20 for other services which would increase the cost to $50. The extra $20 is kept by the girl who engages in the sexual act. The $30 is for fifteen minutes,” court documents detailed.

The search warrant applications said Perez went by the nickname, “La China,” and explained how she would deliver the prostitute to the location of a caller, or customers could go to her residence for business.

"'La China’ has two prostitutes every week that stay at her house at 120 Plainfield Avenue in Goose Creek. The two prostitutes are transported down from North Carolina by ‘La China’ and/or unnamed co-conspirators,” court documents described. “They stay at the house for approximately one week and then are transported back to an unknown location in North Carolina and switched out for two new females.”

Neighbors believed the women were relatives of Zavaleta-Perez, and they were shocked to hear the women were involved in a prostitution business being operated inside the nearby house.

“My heart started pounding really bad, like I’m literally shaking because there’s kids down here and like we don’t want none of this around here. Of course, nobody wants this,” said Amber Sexton. She lives across the street from the suspected prostitution house.

“I never expected anything going on in that house. I thought it was just a lot of families just living together. I didn’t see nothing strange. I didn’t hear nothing strange,” Sexton said.

Federal agents were alerted to the situation by an informant who was not identified in court documents.

Earlier this month, authorities set up a sting operation where they had their informant contact Zavaleta-Perez and initiate a prostitution deal.

Court documents said Zavaleta-Perez was arrested at the Driftwood Apartments in North Charleston in the process of dropping off a woman to meet the informant for sex.

The prostitute was identified as a citizen of Mexico who was in the United States illegally. Her purse contained approximately 15 condoms and a bottle of personal lubricant gel, according to court documents.

The woman was interviewed by federal agents, and she stated that she had been smuggled into the US from Mexico through Laredo, Texas in Feb. 2018. She said she was introduced to an unidentified man in Atlanta who was involved in driving girls around for prostitution-related activities. She claimed the man was responsible for bringing her to South Carolina. She detailed how Zavaleta-Perez would giver her rides around the area to meet with customers, but she denied committing the sexual acts under obligation or force. Zavaleta-Perez told authorities the woman had been with approximately 45 clients since she arrived in Goose Creek.

Another woman told authorities she initially split her profits from clients with Zavaleta-Perez, but recently had paid “La China” a monthly fee, between $500 and $800, to stay at her house on Plainfield Avenue.

Zavaleta-Perez told authorities her own immigration story. According to court documents, her son was smuggled in to the United States about one year and ten months ago for $9,700. She told agents she needed to borrow money to pay the smuggling fee and borrowed the money from a man who worked in the prostitution business and got her started in the ring.

Zavaleta-Perez reported to agents she “only works with older girls here and the youngest has been approximately 26 years of age.”

She appeared in federal court Thursday afternoon for a preliminary hearing and detention hearing.

Her attorney and the US Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.

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