Meet Driver: he delivers wretched little moments of paid pleasure to men in a life of toil. And in equal measure, he delivers endless moments of horror to women in a life of sexual slavery. The Mexican prostitution mafia that services immigrant workers in America, from Nexos:
Driver tensed up like a spring. He was seated in the front seat of his red Charger — this was normal, but it wasn’t normal they call him when the evening had hardly begun. It was too early. Way too fucking early, man. So early that not even half the clients would have finished their turn with the girl.
On the other end of the line, screams. It was a cry with a very specific tone of voice that men in his profession learned to interpret because it was the currency they trade in. They spend their days dealing it out. Fear.
“Help me! He wants to kill me!” the woman implored.
It was Monica, his offering for the day, a pretty young girl from Puebla who getting her start in this prostitution thing. She had just arrived from Mexico, crossed the border in Texas, and that night was tasked with servicing an entire house of migrants in the suburb of Corona, an ugly neighborhood close to La Guardia Airport that has been taken over by Mexican migrants in the past decade and a half.
Methodical, following the protocol that experience had taught him for these types of situations, Driver got out of his car, opened the trunk, grabbed his aluminum New York Yankees baseball bat, and headed for the porch of the neglected two-story house. It was a rattrap in every sense of the word: The yard was overgrown and full of trash. Old cars were sitting in the garage. The front of the house was crumbling.
To put it colloquially, the rubber was about to meet the road, but for Driver this was nothing new. The constant exposure to violence came with the business. Hence the bat, a piece of ambiguous metal whose biggest advantage was its subjective value, malleable according to the occasion. If the police asked, he was on his way to play some baseball. Me? Yes officer, I’m going to a game in Flushing Park with my homies. For rivals it meant that a driver was prepared to defend his girls and his territory, and watch out anyone who stepped on either of the two. And for clients it was a symbol of the law. It was sign clearly stating that even their $30 dollars had its limits. That you could do almost anything with the girls, but if you crossed the line, they would cave your skull in.
The scene that unfolded next was burned into Driver’s memory in four frames: 1) Here we have Monica running out the door, pursued by a fat man. Both are naked. 2) Here the fat man’s surprise when he sees the bat. 3) Then, the dry sound of aluminum hitting a body, very different from the sound when it hits a ball. 4) The chauffeur bestrides him victorious, the bat raised high as if he were celebrating a hit in front of fans at Yankee Stadium.
Outside on the porch, Monica could not stop sobbing, hysterical.
“Stop crying, now. Get dressed and get in the car for me. Quiet because the police are already on the way,” the driver warned. He suspected it would not take them long to be onto them. The 5-0 was always making the rounds in these neighborhoods.
The Charger started up a backstreet towards Queens, to the clandestine brothel where Monica had lived with other Mexican women since arriving in this corner of the United States. Protocol above all: Her pimp would have to informed of the incident and the evidence would have to be disposed of. The baseball bat stayed behind, thrown in the back yard of a home because only an idiot who wanted a vacation at Rikers Island would carry a weapon. Subjectivity XX ends where a policeman’s gun begins.
Driver’s suspicions were correct. It did not take long before the lights of a patrol car appeared in the muscle car’s rearview mirror. For those unfamiliar with the world of human trafficking, this may seem like an ideal moment for Monica to escape. A Hollywood moment in which she begs the approaching officer for help.
It is easy to imagine: Help me sir! I’m a slave. Then the gun drawn, the emotional rescue, Driver handcuffed on the ground. Behind him, flashing lights, ambulances, a woman being treated by paramedics, warming her up with a blanket over the shoulders and a cup of hot chocolate. Reality is crueler. Very rarely does it happen like that. The silence, sustained and cemented by terror, by mutual complicity, and by a large amount of Pavlovian conditioning — if you talk I hit you, therefore you do not talk — is usually the norm. Many victims do not talk not only because of the enormous risk it entails, but because they have literally forgotten how to do so.
Why run away when silence is a certainty? Inside the car, three recommendations: Be quiet. fix your skirt and zip up your jacket. Wipe your eyes. Shh, shh, shh.
“The police stopped me, but I wasn’t scared. I saw it was a federal ICE agent, but I was sure there was no way he could prove anything. There was no bat and I was just the driver, right? He asked to search the car and I let him. And he found a condom and cards where I advertised women, but up there [in New York]that isn’t illegal. Besides, the girl kept quiet even though they questioned her… They let us go a bit later,” says Driver, who at this point should be introduced in a bit more detail.
He is Mexican and lived for years by exploiting women in New York and New Jersey. Driver was a chauffeur and for years served organized crime in the role of delivery boy and mobile pimp. He was a traveling brothel, one of the most well-worn modes in the business of human trafficking in the United Sates because it is one of the most difficult to bust: In contrast to the traditional brothel, evidence against drivers is very difficult to accumulate. They can claim they only drive, that they are innocent taxi drivers, ignorant of what happens to the women when they leave them at their destination. Threats? Prostitution! No, sir. I just drive.
After a few failed attempts, Driver has finally decided to tell me his story. It is a conversation I pursue because after years of writing about human trafficking, I am convinced that it will open a fissure for me into the successful internationalization that the sex trade mafias that buzz between Mexico and the United States, taking women south to north and money the opposite way. I was not mistaken.
Our conversation went on for hours, during which the driver summed up his years working in the underworld of the United States’ sex trade. The story begins like many others of its kind, on a street in Puebla or Veracruz with a girl who is seduced by a pimp. Next, the story takes a turn to the north. It goes through human smugglers, the border at Nuevo Laredo, beatings, safe houses, and a long road.
The story continues in a car on Interstate 81, which runs from Texas to New York. It continues with these women, kidnapped in some little plaza of any old Mexican village, their arrival to the great Manhattan, crossing one of the bridges connecting to the island. There, amidst the skyscrapers, the victims have to have sexual relations with dozens of men a day. They suffer forced abortions, beatings, and constant fear. And to top it off, they work in sordid brothels in Queens and on Roosevelt Avenue, a street famous for being the epicenter of prostitution in New Jersey. A real horror road movie. One of the sentences Driver uses to describe his job sums things up so well and so terribly: “I delivered them to homes like they were hot pizzas”.
It is not difficult to imagine the terror that the mere image of his car must evoked, the final link in an uninterrupted chain of suffering for dozens of women held in conditions of slavery. Again, the subjective value of a thing. In the normal world, a Charger is a thing of beauty, a gem of a car. In the sex trade, it was a symbolic nightmare on wheels. For the victims, it was the last they saw before being handed over to rape sessions that could include 10, 15 clients. And it was the first thing they saw after leaving hours of work. Because sometimes they cried and because appearances had to be maintained, Driver kept a roll of toilet paper in the glove box.
Coolness under pressure, a driver’s license, deep knowledge of the streets, and even access to legal help have made drivers like him prized operators among the mafias that control the sex trade in the immense metropolitan area of New York and New Jersey, home to an enormous mosaic of multiracial and generally bachelor migrants who want to pay for sex.
At one time, it was the Russians and the Sicilians who took it upon themselves to control the market, but for a few years now, new players have been gatecrashing the scene. They come from a specific town in Mexico. They have been so successful that their status has grown in the past years to raise them up the equivalent of kingpins among kingpins. And they have something out of the ordinary, a gift of gab that has been the subject of studies and endless articles, and despite all the warnings and criminal charges, one that still lets them trap women time and time again.
“All the heavyweight pimps in Jersey and Manhattan are from Tlaxcala,” says Driver.
“From what part of Tlaxcala?”
Driver is not from Tenancingo, but he could be. For years he was inside the business. In a certain way, his role could be understood as that of a middleman, a distributor of imports. He did not come down to get the girls, but he distributed them.
The mechanics of it, very similar to what any multinational company would use, are the following: In Mexico, the Tlaxcaltecan pimp is in charge of obtaining the raw material — women, whom he then transports to a developed market, in this case the east coast of the United States. Once there, to boost profit and reduce risk, they contract a distributor with knowledge of the local scene, a specialist, one could say. That is where Driver and his tribe come into the picture.
“Think of it as a brothel on wheels. For us it is a good business because the deliveryman doesn’t have to support or pay or take care of the women. He just has to bring them around, and that’s it,” the chauffeur explains.
A character like this agreeing to talk about his life is uncommon. In the world of the sex trade mafia, a strict code of silence usually reigns. He who breaks it may die. But at the same time it is a valuable opportunity: It offers a privileged look at the world of human trafficking and the psychology behind its perpetrators. And it illustrates something bigger, something about how an illicit connection has reached from the Mexican altiplano to the very heart of the United States.
This pimp’s testimony, along with that of activists, security agencies and diplomats and half a dozen state and federal court cases obtained by Nexos, work to reconstruct the outline of the colonization the pimps from Tenancingo have taken on in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island in the past 10 years.
It is an undeniable fact that the Tlaxcaltecan families involved in prostitution have expanded and prospered in different states in the U.S. like aggressive multinationals (“La Conexión Tenancingo”, Nexos 1/7/2013). But if their international operations have an economic center, a hub from which they repatriate hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, it is found in New York and New Jersey. The similarity that comes to mind is Coca Cola. The cooperation may have their headquarters in Atlanta, but the large part of their sales comes from Mexico. And so it is with prostitution: Their headquarters is in Tlaxcala. Their sales, to the north, in Manhattan and its surrounding areas.
“There was a lot of work. We felt like kings of the jungle, delivering women, collecting money, living well, dealing out beatings in the street,” said this driver, who only agreed to give me an interview if his identity were withheld, because he feared that by breaking the vow of silence he could be killed. It is a probable prospect, completely possible.
And now, because of one of those twists life takes, Driver lives in Mexico. After working for a decade doing door-to-door delivery, he abandoned the United States in 2009 because things were getting too dangerous in the north. He sold the Charger and his apartment and returned to Mexico with the idea of continuing the business. He tried — what else? — being a pimp for a few months.
He was not successful: If the ICE official had been unable to arrest him that afternoon in Corona because he did not have the legal tools to do it, here the Mexican laws against prostitution — some of the strictest in the Americas — permitted federal prosecutors to lock him up for a very similar situation: a woman, a car, cards advertising prostitution. Driver went to the pen. Today he finds himself in a federal prison for forced prostitution, and he has become a Christian.
I get the impression that this dialogue is part of his attempt to atone for past sins.
“I know what I did was wrong,” he admits.
Driver and his sins may be in Mexico, but back in New York and the surrounding metropolitan area, the ecosystem that allowed he and his ilk to operate for years remains intact and blossoming, as a raid last February showed. Of all the possible days, they chose one of the most iconic in the United States: Super Bowl Sunday.
At Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos were playing Superbowl XLVIII. Almost at the same time, the FBI and New Jersey’s Department of Justice announced the arrest of 45 pimps and the rescue of 16 minors, girls offered up to fans on the Internet and via business cards known as “chica-cards”. A local news outlet described it as if they were delivering MREs — meals ready to go –, mere junk food to be consumed and then discarded.
With the judicial process still underway, the nationalities of the pimps captured in the Super Bowl raid have not been released, but it is not difficult to guess why. It is necessary to trace the origins of the victims. Among the women rescued, the FBI reported having found one Mexican.
“We know of several bands from Tenancingo in the area,” said New Jersey’s anti-trafficking attorney, Tracy Thompson.
The case of that Mexican woman who on the day of the game must have prostituted herself is not the exception, but the rule: She is just one of several dozen who in the past years have fallen in one way or another into the circuit of sexual slavery in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, closer to Canada than to Mexico. It is a world that appears typically WASP — white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant — and one in which a male-dominated culture from a small town in Tlaxcala would not seem to have traction or fertile ground to grow. But it has both those things.
“It is like these criminal organizations from Tlaxcala have transplanted a little bit of Mexico in the United States,” says Avaloy Lanning, a member of the NGO Safe Horizons, dedicated to rescuing foreign victims of human trafficking in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. “They act the way they would act in Mexico, terrorizing and exploiting entire communities of migrants… Sometimes when we take in victims from Mexico and they tell us they are from Puebla or that area, we already know what they are going to say: that they were exploited and swindled into being brought to the United States.”
Tela Munoz, a specialist in treating victims for the FBI in New York, agrees: “We have come across several victims with ties to the organizations in Tenancingo. We have recovered people from there, adults as well as minors, victims that came to us, that fled their pimps and in one or another arrived to our office,” she said.
The geographic diaspora of the Tenancingo mafias throughout the entire region is evident, as shown by a case blown open towards the end of 2013, when agents from New Jersey’s Bureau of Gangs and Organized Crime busted a band based in Lakewood, a city better known as being home to an enormous community of orthodox Jews. Every year, thousands of devotees attend its Yeshiva — a center for Jewish studies — to analyze the Torah and the Talmud.
Of all the possible environs, this was the chosen location for an organization of pimps from Tlaxcala, headed by Jose Cruz Romero Flores, alias El Chato, to run four houses. State authorities described the brothels as “houses with high volume prostitution” in which women had to attend to a minimum of 100 clients a week and sometimes, during the high season, up to 40 a day. This volume means that in a single day of work, a victim could produce up to $1200. With seven straight days, the earnings would go up to $8400 a girl.
Going back the similarities with a cooperation, a company with operations overseas periodically repatriates profits. It is the same in this case. The money generated by the slaves in Lakewood returned to Mexico.
Detective Brian Christensen, a block of a man with long blond hair, whom I met in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, told me that Cruz Romero confessed to sending wire transfers of his profits back to Tenancingo, where the inexplicable proliferation of mansions is an oddity in such a marginal town. Here is the response: “He told us that he had built several restaurants and homes,” the investigator said.
And the business was in the process of expanding. A federation of pimps had started to take shape. According to court documents, “(Cruz) Romero Flores and other brothel owners in New Jersey, New York and other surrounding states worked as a band that brought women in illegally, mostly from Mexico but also from other Latin American countries. Many women thought they were coming to the United States to work as maids or nannies”.
Another four men were arrested from Cruz Romero’s band. Like Driver, one of them was a deliveryman in charge of taking women to different sexual encounters. A raid on the brothels turned up dozens of Mexican passports, cell phones, and a computer with an Excel spreadsheet that laid out, in detail, the names of the women, the dates they worked, and the places where they needed to be taken. Also, a key piece: drivers’ licenses. Not just anyone can drive in the United States, especially after post 9-11 laws have made it harder to get ID cards. (Driver got his permit in Oregon, a state with lax on controls on ID cards.)
According to the testimonies compiled by New Jersey’s Department of Justice, the deliverymen from Cruz Romero’s band took care of not only taking the women to their sexual encounters, but also taking them from brothel to brothel, to provide “variety” and keep clients satisfied and wanting to return. They also picked them up in the rooming house where they lived in Union City, a working class enclave that is home to thousands of maids and gardeners who make their living in Manhattan and Rochester’s mansions. Ironically, to house their victims, the pimps chose to rent a property right next to a church.
If the cases of Cruz Romero and the Super Bowl are two of the most recent, the connection between Tenancingo and New York’s lower class suburbs dates back almost 25 years, with the arrival to area of an initial generation of adventurous pimps. More precisely, the starting point was in 1991, when the brothers Gerardo and Josue Flores Carreto recognized the enormous opportunity to serve the growing population of migrant Latinos in the United States, mostly single men. The first large binational human trafficking operation was born.
With their family’s support, during the next 14 years both brothers carted dozens of women to the east coast of the United States, using the traditional tools of Tlaxcaltecan pimps, a formula based on smooth talking, seduction, deception and violence. Their empire did not fade until 2004, when the police in New York organized a raid on their brothels in Queens, from which they rescued several women living in a state of slavery. Many of them said they were from Tenancingo.
The importance of the case rests in its binational nature. Simultaneous with the operation in Queens, Mexican authorities arrested relatives of the Flores Carretos in Tlaxcala, among them Consuelo, the mother of the clan, who received part of the profits repatriated to Mexico by wire transfer. She was extradited to the United States and later sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On April 6, 2005, The New York Times published some of the testimonies given during the trial of the Flores Carreto family: “One of the men tried to stab a young Mexican girl with the edge of a bottle that he had broken on her head. Another forced his girlfriend to get an abortion, saying it was necessary so he could keep selling her in Brooklyn and Queens. A third told his own wife that he would kill her family in Mexico if she didn’t see 20 men a night”.
With a trial prolific in testimonies that confirmed their cruelty, the Flores Carreto brothers were sentenced to 50 years in prison. But far from being a deterrent, the fall of Gerardo and Josue was just the beginning of the sex trade’s colonization of the northeast of the United States. Although far from all Tenancingo’s migrants are linked to organized crime – such a generalization would be absurd –, a fact detected by the Secretary of Foreign Relations is notable: In their jurisdiction they have noticed a peculiar rise in migration from Tlaxcala to New York and New Jersey, in which 314 people have applied for green cards since 2009, the year they started to keep detailed statistics. That adds up to almost three percent of the town’s population.
And if these consular figures speak to an unusual rise in the town, the number of cases involving Mexican victims and pimps from Tlaxcala indicate that, in effect, something is happening. In May of this year, Isaias “El Chelo” Flores Mendez, from Tenancingo, was sentenced by a New York court to life in prison for his role in an organization dedicated to the exploitation “of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Mexican victims over a decade”, according to the federal prosecutor. It was not a small band: It consisted of 17 people.
“The pimp covered his face with his hands while Judge Katherine Forrest read the first life sentence in New York for human trafficking,” reported the New York Daily News in their May 15 edition. As in many trials, an artist sketched a pencil drawing of what happened in the courtroom. In the sketch there is a man, hair cropped short, military style, looking at the floor, defeated. A woman in glasses and a robe, Judge Forrest, observes him with open scorn, even disgust.
“There is no sentence that is really sufficient to do justice,” the judge said to Flores. “You ran a depraved mill that forced women to do unspeakable things.”
Shortly before Forrest read the sentence, Flores Mendez’s defense presented letters written by his mother, Columba Mendez, and his wife, Juana Castillo, to try to give El Chelo a sense of “integrity” and avoid a life sentence. The messages are rudimentary, written by hand on notebook pages, and they fail completely in their objective. But even at that, they lay bare one of the most malicious effects of the Tlaxcaltecan sex trade: The money obtained in the United States by slavery returns to Mexico, mixing with the flow of capital that travels between one country and the other. In the strictest sense of the word, it is a remittance, that same as the dollars sent home by a mason, a server, a professional.
Here are some fragments from those letters, with their original spelling. From Columba: “My husband and I are very said for what has hapened (sic) because my son Isaias is in this situation. My husband and I depend on him because we are old … I have reumatoid (sic) arthritis and my husband diabetes. His health is very delicate and the doctors want to do dialysis and my son is the one who was going to pay everything.”
And his wife, Juana: “The lack of work was the cause for why my husband had to go to a foriegn (sic) country because our economy was so low it wasn’t enough for us maintain me and my four kids … we opted no move forward me taking care of them and him going to a foreign country. It has been hard, but here we giving it our best.”
Giving it our best.
If the number of victims is in the hundreds, as the New York attorney’s office argues, El Chelo repatriated a stratospheric quantity of money to Tlaxcala.
After a high profile trial like this one, it did not take much for Tlaxcala’s pimps to return to center of attention in New York’s judicial system. Just two months later, on June 25, Antonio Lira Robles, ringleader of the Granados Hernandez clan — another organization from Tenancingo accused of human trafficking, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fine of $1.2 million for the slavery and torture of a Mexican woman.
The testimony offered by this woman early last August at the close of the trial against Lira Robles gives an idea of how they have consolidated a circuit of victims and perpetrators between the town Tlaxcala and the Big Apple, separated by 3,000 kilometers but united by close economic bonds.
“I was a victim of the sex trade and forced prostitution,” said the woman, whose identity was kept secret in the trial in accordance with the witness protection procedure. “Antonio didn’t treat me like a human being. He treated me like a sexual robot. For years I cried in silence and I carry the scars of abuse with me every day, but I can’t remain silent. I am here today so Antonio and his family can’t force another woman into prostitution”.
The key is found in the word “here”: The woman was speaking before a judge and jury in a Brooklyn courtroom. Her story was not one of women lost and submitted to a life of injustice and slavery on the periphery.
Her testimony and that of other cases show that she and other Mexican women were being exploited in the very heart of eastern civilization by men from a small, perhaps primitive town, whose criminals had become sophisticated and learned to use the instruments of globalization quickly and to their own benefit.
According to Safe Horizons, 90 percent of the victims their specialists see now are from the Spanish-speaking world, and a good number of them are from Mexico. In the New York shelters run by the NGO Restore, “most of the woman who come in are Mexican. I would say three quarters,” added Diego Traverso, a Chilean documentary filmmaker.
According to numbers from the Mexican consulate in New York, in 2013 alone there were 16 cases of Mexican women who had been victims of the sex trade in the area. Two thirds of them came from the altiplano: Officials from immigration control were able to establish that 31 percent of them came from Tlaxcala while another 31 percent were from Puebla, another place of origin for many of the women who fall under the power of the Tenancingo organizations.
And this a misleading figure because many do not dare report to the police because they are undocumented. “The problem is that they fear coming to the embassy. The truth is that it is a phenomenon that isn’t always reported and it’s difficult for the consulate to help unless there is a formal complaint,” said Sandra Fuentes-Berain, Mexico’s consul in New York.
She remembers one case in particular. “Just a few weeks after my arrival in New York, one of the victims of human trafficking appealed to our department for protection. When she told me her story it shook me up badly. I couldn’t imagine this could happen. A man who promised this girl a better life had made her fall in love with him. He had promised to get her out of poverty. He brought her to New York, with I don’t know what kind of papers, and once she was here he exploited her sexually. This woman had the courage to come to the consulate to present her case. But as the consul, and as a woman, these cases make me angry,” she said.
Though if as a woman the phenomenon has made her angry, as consul Fuentes-Berain admitted she found herself in a dilemma. On one hand, the law obligated her to defend any Mexican citizen accused in court, without caring or having a prejudice against the crime. But on the other hand, she is faced with the repulsion generated in the her by the cruelty of the pimps from Tenancingo.
“Up until now,” she revealed,”I haven’t had to defend a pimp, or an exploiter. But they are Mexicans and they have the right to assistance from the consulate… although as a woman I hope the situation doesn’t present itself. I’d have a problem with my conscience.”
Eventually, she will have to do it. The magnitude of the phenomenon is put in perspective from a data base compiled from U.S. courts records in the area. It reveals how prolific the colonization of the bands from Tenancingo has been in New York and New Jersey: Since 2003, at least six groups have been undergone trials in both states, accumulating sentences that go from 15 years to life in prison. The Flores Mendez, Lopez Perez, Cruz Romero Flores, Carreto Valenica and Jimenez Calderon mafias.
Two main conclusion come out of the facts obtained: 1) The Tenancingo mafias have entered the big leagues of global organized crime, making it in one of the world’s most emblematic cities. 2) Dozens of Mexicans are, right now, victims of human trafficking just kilometers from global symbols like the UN Headquarters, Wall Street or the Statue of Liberty.
I met Driver in prison a few months ago through the NGO United Against Human Trafficking, (a group) that had decided to help him in his rehabilitation with psychological and spiritual counseling with the idea that revealing his experience could help keep other people from getting involved in the business of human trafficking. Minutes before telling me his story, he had entered the director of the jail’s office discretely, suspicious, always looking back to make sure no one had followed him.
“The pimps would get me for this,” he admitted.
At his back, from beyond the door, the sounds of the jail’s patio could be heard. It was the prison population in its natural state of boiling over, the product of forcing assassins, rapists, gang members, kidnappers and drug traffickers to live in a confined space together. Angry men insulted each other, yelling. Even though his experiences spoke to the life of an older man — one who had committed several atrocities –, Driver was still young. He was no more than 30 years old and nothing in his appearance indicated his experience as a mobile pimp. His hair was short and neat. His clothes clean. On his arms some tattoos and scars could be made out, but there was nothing harkened back to the monstrosity he had been involved with for several years.
“Almost all of my deliveries,” he said,”were Mexican women. There were many girls from Puebla, Vera Cruz and Oaxaca, but the most prized were the girls from Jalisco and Sinaloa. The Tenancingo pimps were famous because they always got pretty women.”
Broadway. The Bowery. Houston Street. Canal Street. Avenue of the Americas. Apartment buildings. Duplexes. Suburbs. Until 2011, Driver distributed “female Mexican existences” all over Manhattan and part of the east coast of the United States, in which he took care of satiating the desires of a clientele made up predominantly of Mexican migrants. Sometimes, if the money was good, he would travel as far as Pennsylvania.
The ethnic origin of the clients reflects the racial diversity of the area. It is like a UN of men who pay for sex, or Johns, as they are known in the United States, a word that could be translated as Juanes. The Mexican women were the most popular, perhaps only because they were the most numerous.
“How were your clients?”
“All kinds, but the Mexicans are the best. In general, they don’t want problems and take whatever. The Central Americans, for example, are very problematic. They’re always drunk. We never took them to the Colombians and Puerto Ricans. They mistreat the girls. It’s really better not to waste time with them. Others we charge more, like the Indian and Chinese men, who are quiet and pay well”.
He did his deliveries with what for him was style: Chargers, Malibus, Mustangs. Fast luxury cars paid for with cash given to him by the girls’ pimps, generally making about $10 to $15 for every 15 minutes of work. In a week he could make up to $1000 tax free, although sometimes he could earn more, depending on where he was delivering the product.
According to what he told me, in the same way moving trucks charge by distance, the delivery drivers charged by region. In Long Island, the fee was $30 to $35 for 15 minutes. Queens is closer to the women, and because of that having sex with them did not cost more than $25 for 30 minutes, while in Manhattan, an area with more buying power, they could charge $35 to $40 for 20 minutes.
The crucial role drivers play in the human trafficking in New York has already been recognized by the authorities. In 2012, then mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the law 36/2012, which punishes drivers lending their services to human trafficking with a fine of up to $10,000.
“Who would have thought that taxis would turn into a problem in the issue of sex trafficking?” asked then New City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn. The law came about in large part because of revelations made by Sofia, a Mexican who had been a trafficking victim for years and who had revealed the mechanism behind how the drivers operate.
And what did this pimp of the road use his money for? Disproportionately, what Driver describes calls to mind the historic book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by Hannah Arendt. While covering the judicial process of the nascent Israeli state’s trial of Adolf Eichmann, responsible for the logistics and design of the Final Solution — the transport of millions of Jews to their death — , Arendt found a superficial, even vulgar man, something that lent a still darker tone to the atrocities he helped commit.
That is what Driver is: A man whose actions do not have any explanation or logic. He simply did what he did because the opportunity presented itself. He was not sexually abused as a child, nor did he have a tormented past that caused him to try to go out with the women he drove to the pyre of rape.
“I used the money to buy flat-screen televisions and stereos. Some people saved to buy land in Mexico. Not me. I used it to live day to day,” he says. “Sometimes… what I did depresses me”.
I understood that he was looking for atonement by telling his story, but I was in no position to give it to him. I could not help but to remember a line from a ‘90s movie, 8MM. When the main character, a detective, confronts an actor who murders women in snuff films, the man explains the rationale behind his actions: “I wasn’t beaten. I wasn’t molested. Mommy didn’t abuse me. Daddy never raped me. I’m only what I am. That’s all there is to it. There’s no mystery. The things I do, I do them because I Iike them. Because I want to.”
“You have to go to Queens if you want to see the whole thing,” Driver suggested to me. And so here I am, freezing on this winter night. It is so cold that little stalactites of ice have formed on the train bridge, and even the crack dealers have gone home, surrendering to the reality that no one in their right mind should be on the street. The bottom seems to have fallen out of the thermometer and it reads 15 degrees below zero. Later 16 below. In minutes it has already reached 17 below. On the radio, the meteorologist announces an imminent blizzard that many predict will paralyze New Jersey, Manhattan and Queens. He says it with such fervor that it seems a new Ice Age awaits us. They are calling it a polar vortex. In Mexico, they must already be getting into spring. Here, in the United States, winter seems eternal.
“…inches of snow…”, “… suspended flights…”, “… highways closed…”, “… on alert…”, “… National Guard…”
At 9pm, the battered Fleming train, a beast with its back tattooed by gang graffiti, approaches on the elevated track. Its passing throws snow onto the few pedestrians who bravely walk Roosevelt Avenue, where buildings are lit up with blue tones from the flashes on the electric rails. Along with the sparks, snowflakes cascade into the frozen mud, amidst what looks like a sea of baseball cards, but what are really cards advertising prostitution. They contain images of semi-naked women and suggestive taglines in Spanish, “little chicken delivery”, “delicious”, “mamacitas”.
Before our conversation ended, Driver explained these cards to me. They are the same ones he was carrying in his car when he was stopped by the ICE agent. They are known as “chica cards”, used by the deliverymen as a marketing tools. They are handed out in the street by young kids who aspire to graduate one day and turn into drivers and continue the cycle of female slavery.
While I reflect on what seems to be an endless cycle, almost like a snake eating its own tail, I arrive to the corner of Roosevelt and 131st. A man hiding his face under a hat talks to me in a quiet voice as I approach. Amongst the pile of cards in his gloved hand I can make out legs, underwear, beds and women that were photoshopped from any old Internet porn site.
“Chicks, chicks, chicks,” he says, steam pouring out his mouth.
“There in the red light, bro”.
Meters more and the promised land is reached. El Bar Tucanazo, a club with red lights at an entrance that advertises, in Spanish, “newly arrived schoolgirls”. A blast of music escapes from inside. It is the Banda Limon playing “Meter Cancion”. There are already some yells of approval. I suppose someone has taken the stage.
“Come in, come in,” the doorman offers.
I do not know what to say. Driver did not lie. This is not Mexico, but it is close. Tenancingo has conquered the United States.
Victor Hugo Michel Translated from Spanish by Brian Hagenbuch for International Boulevard
05 Jan 2015