Last Prostitution-Ring Perp to be Sentenced, but Vermont Migrant Farmworker Sex Scandal Is Not Over Yet
When the U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Jose Tomas Flores-Rocha for bringing Hispanic prostitutes to “service” workers on Vermont dairy farms, their search turned up a mysterious business card.
The card read “Don Chingon” — Spanish slang for “The Man” or “The Main Man.” Underneath that moniker was the name Alejandro Enrique Y Hernandez, with a Hyde Park, Vt., address.
“The Man” turned out to be Alejandro Enrique Young-Hernandez, also known as Alex Young, a former state prison guard who was then employed as a case aide with the Vermont Department for Children and Families, connecting needy families with state assistance programs.
Young-Hernandez spent six years keeping prisoners in line as a state correctional officer in St. Johnsbury in the late 1990s, but soon he could be the one behind bars. On Thursday, February 7, Young-Hernandez will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro for lining up Vermont customers for New York prostitutes who would perform sex acts on up to 10 farmworkers a day.
Coincidentally, the federal law to which he pled guilty is called the Mann Act.
Young-Hernandez is the last of the four defendants to face sentencing for their roles in a prostitution ring that authorities began uncovering in 2011.
But new developments suggest the investigation is not complete — and may expand to snare other players. The FBI last week secured a search warrant to perform a forensic examination of a Blackberry that belonged to Flores-Rocha, a 55-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico who was the prostitution ringleader.
FBI Special Agent Wayne E. Shuptrine wrote in the warrant application that authorities believe the password-protected cellphone — presently stored in a Homeland Security evidence locker in South Burlington — contains text messages, emails and photographic evidence that could lead investigators to additional “customers and co-conspirators.”
Young-Hernandez told investigators he met Flores-Rocha — a stocky man with short hair — on the Hyde Park farm where he resided, and the two began exchanging phone and text messages. The arrangement they worked out, according to authorities, is that Young-Hernandez took requests from farmworkers who wanted a prostitute and texted their addresses to Flores-Rocha in New York. Young-Hernandez, who is in his fifties, is a native of Mexico who became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
As he awaits sentencing, Seven Days has uncovered new details about his tenure as a state employee. Public records show that Young-Hernandez was hired in 1996 as a correctional officer at the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury, earning $19,094 a year. He was promoted three years later and was earning $31,324 when he left the Department of Corrections in 2002.
Young-Hernandez’s next job was at the state Department for Children and Families, where he earned $40,000 as a human-services case aide in the Morrisville field office. In that position, he provided case-management help for families, interviewed clients and did other clerical and office work, says Dawn O’Toole, DCF’s director of operations. O’Toole said she had no firsthand experience working with Young-Hernandez and that state personnel policies prevented her from saying anything more.
O’Toole did disclose that Young-Hernandez was relieved of duty in June 2011 following his arrest on federal charges and terminated from DCF two months later.
Federal authorities stumbled onto the prostitution ring on March 16, 2011, after Border Patrol agents stopped Flores-Rocha and a woman he was pimping. According to court records, the pair had driven up from Queens, N.Y., on March 14 and stayed that night at the Quality Inn on Shelburne Road.
The next day, Flores-Rocha brought the woman to three different farms to meet migrant laborers. At the first one, she sexually serviced four men. At a second farm, she met another four customers and at a third farm, two more.
The fee was $50 for 15 minutes, court records say, and she and Flores-Rocha planned to split the money at the end of the trip. The night of March 15, they stayed at the North Star Motel, also on Shelburne Road. The next day, the duo went to another farm, where she serviced two more men. They were en route to another farm when Border Patrol pulled them over.
When the agents searched Flores-Rocha’s truck, they found a green ledger book containing the names, addresses and phone numbers of numerous farms in Vermont and New York. The ledger also contained contacts at each farm and a list of the women providing prostitution services, with a tally of farmworkers serviced beside each name.
In the truck, agents found a GPS unit with farm addresses stored in it. They also confiscated two cellphones belonging to Flores-Rocha: a Nokia Blink that contained addresses frequented by the pimp and the password-protected Blackberry.
In his warrant application to search the Blackberry, the FBI’s Shuptrine reveals that an employee of the North Star Motel in Shelburne told investigators that Flores-Rocha had stayed at the hotel on nine separate occasions under numerous different names between April 2010 and the time he was busted in March 2011. Each time, Flores-Rocha checked in with different young females that the motel employee guessed were between 16 and 20 years old. On every visit, he paid in cash.
Young-Hernandez had been supplying customer names and addresses to Flores-Rocha since at least the fall of 2010, the FBI agent wrote.
But the prostitute found with Flores-Rocha was not underage. The woman told federal agents she was not under the influence of drugs and did not experience violent acts from Flores-Rocha or any of the farmworkers she serviced. In fact, federal prosecutors argued for a lenient, 18-month jail term for Flores-Rocha in part because the woman was “not particularly vulnerable based on her age or personal circumstances.”
“She was in her thirties, claimed to be living with family in New Jersey in a stable living environment, expected to receive half the profits from the venture with the defendant and was a prostitute before coming to the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Ross wrote in a June 2012 sentencing memorandum.
Ross wouldn’t discuss the prostitution case beyond what’s in the public record. Young-Hernandez’s lawyer, Burlington attorney Frank Twarog, declined comment for the story.
Seven Days spoke with several people who know Young-Hernandez from the migrant farmworker community, but none would talk on the record. One acquaintance said Young-Hernandez went by “Alejandro” among farmworkers but was known to Vermont farmers by the more American-sounding “Alex Young.” He was well liked by many farmers for providing translation services, the source said, and well liked by workers for hanging out and bringing them clothes from Walmart.
Another person who knows Young-Hernandez says he frequently drove farmworkers to a mobile Mexican consulate that comes to Vermont twice a year. He did so as recently as last July — more than a year after he was brought up on federal charges.
But as Ross points out in a new court filing, Young-Hernandez’s motivations were not entirely altruistic. “He marked up the costs of goods and services he sold to the farm workers as much as 30 to 50 percent,” Ross wrote.
The first source said prostitution appears to be commonplace on Vermont dairy farms, which collectively employ between 1000 and 3000 migrant laborers. This person said that when he delivers food and other necessities to them, workers are “constantly asking” him to connect them with sexual services.
Still, he was shocked when Young-Hernandez was arrested for his role in the prostitution ring. “I had no idea he was involved in that at all,” the source said.
Flores-Rocha and two other co-conspirators all faced up to five years in prison for violating the federal Mann Act, but each received reduced prison terms of 10 to 18 months. One of the pimps remains incarcerated at a federal prison in Philipsburg, Penn., with a scheduled release date of May 10. Another was released November 16 after serving 10 months and subsequently deported. Flores-Rocha, the ringleader, was deported back to Mexico after serving an 18-month prison sentence.
As for Young-Hernandez? He is cooperating with federal authorities in exchange for a more lenient sentence. In her sentencing report, Ross asks the judge for a downward departure from the five-year sentence the crime carries. “Young-Hernandez should receive a lesser sentence than others sentenced in this scheme,” Ross writes.