Miguel Hernandez made a lot of money with “International Playmates,” his global escort service that prosecutors allege involved minors. Now he’ll spend 10 years in prison for it, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Miami Beach man began his business in 2010 from a Fort Lauderdale hotel. The women came from Miami, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. At least three were minors, including one 17-year-old girl, documents show.
“This case is just one example of the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams’ steadfast dedication to the prosecution of those who exploit others for personal financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, whose office prosecuted the case with the departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security.
According to court records, Hernandez, 50, a native of Puerto Rico, and his brother (and co-defendant) Eduardo recruited the women, booked their flights, filled out immigration paperwork, coached them on how to talk to Customs officials and picked them up at the airport.
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They posted ads on Backpage.com, a website known for its escort ads, and the money rolled in. So much that Miguel Hernandez stored it in multiple bank accounts, prosecutors said. That money paid for overseas recruiters, drivers to ferry women to-and-from clients, a website technician and “various female associates to help manage the enterprise.”
At least twice, Hernandez “used physical force” against two prostitutes, both from Spain, prosecutors said.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of using a facility of interstate commerce to promote an unlawful activity and four counts of importing and attempting to import an alien for prostitution purposes in May. He faced a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a fine of up to $2 million.
Hernandez’ defense attorney tried (and failed) to have an 18-count racketeering indictment dismissed based on a constitutional claim that prosecutors treated his client unequally, especially when compared to the billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein of Palm Beach, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting minors for prostitution. Prosecutors alleged that Epstein had sex with at least 34 minors in his mansions in Palm Beach, Manhattan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In a plea deal with the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office, Epstein was sentenced to 18 months and jailed for only 13 months. He was allowed to visit his office six days a week during his incarceration. He also was registered as a state sex offender.
This wasn’t Hernandez’s first conviction. In 2009, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in Spain for immigration fraud. He fled Spain and a year later, Hernandez began operating his escort service out of an Extended Stay hotel in Fort Lauderdale.