Honduran Woman Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Entice Individuals to Travel in Interstate Commerce to Engage in Prostitution | USAO-EDLA

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that BIANCA ZELAYA-MERTENS, a/k/a Maritza a/k/a Jossi, 28, of Honduras, pleaded guilty on July 14, 2021 to conspiring to entice individuals to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution. 

According to court documents filed in this case, in February 2020, while conducting an undercover operation with the intent of positively identifying the victims of human trafficking, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) learned that BIANCA ZELAYA-MERTENS (“ZELAYA-MERTENS”) was engaged in sex trafficking.   A confidential informant contacted ZELAYA-MERTENS on the telephone and arranged a meeting for a commercial sex act.  ZELAYA-MERTENS arrived at the designated location accompanied by a sex worker and a commercial sex act was negotiated with the confidential informant. After the sex act was negotiated and the informant paid the negotiated price, but before the act occurred, an NOPD detective and HSI agents opened the door to the adjoining room and clearly announced “police.”  During a subsequent interview by agents, the sex worker stated that ZELAYA-MERTENS told her that she could make money doing prostitution.   Thereafter, on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the sex worker travelled from Houston, Texas to New Orleans and ZELAYA-MERTENS told her she would be working by giving clients sensual massages which included having sex.  She stated that she charged fifty dollars for each client but had to give ZELAYA-MERTENS twenty-five dollars. 

After being advised of her Miranda rights, ZELAYA-MERTENS stated to HSI agents that she had been introduced to this line of work by co-defendant Waleska Miroslava Cabus-Alvarado, who arranged for women to come to Louisiana each week for prostitution.  They both used the same recruiter to locate sex workers.

ZELAYA-MERTENS faces a maximum penalty of five (5) years incarceration, a $250,000 fine, up to a three (3) year term of supervised release, and a mandatory special assessment of $100.00.  ZELAYA-MERTENS’S sentencing is scheduled on October 13, 2021.                                 

U.S. Attorney Evans praised the work of Homeland Security Investigations in investigating this matter.  Assistant United States Attorney Tracey Knight is  in charge of the prosecution.


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