From high school teacher to pimp and human smuggler.
This was the premise of a case involving a Cuban resident in Miami accused of illegally bringing women from the island and forcing them into sex slavery in the United States. Silvio Clark Morales, 31, plead guilty in federal court Thursday to 7 of the 19 charges against him.
Facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, Morales agreed to a plea deal and is now looking at a possible 30-year prison sentence.
With his head down and tears streaming down his face, Morales, who had initially entered a not guilty plea, said that the allegations laid out by prosecutor Benjamin Widlanski during the hearing were true.
Judge José E. Martinez is expected to render a final judgment in June.
This is the first known criminal case involving Cuban women brought to the United States for sexual exploitation.
Morales, AKA “Jander” and “Silvito,” was arrested in September. According to the prosecution, the defendant offered his Cuban female victims a trip to the United States and a job as dancers in Miami in exchange for paying $20,000 — the alleged cost for bringing them illegally from the island through Mexico. Once in the United States, the accused increased their debt to $55,000 and forced them to work as strippers and prostitute themselves, according to court documents.
Most of the women, like Morales, are from Camagüey province in eastern Cuba. They left the island in 2015 and 2016.
The legal documents in the case, first reported by Univisión 23, a news partner of el Nuevo Herald, indicate that Morales did not work alone and moved easily between Florida and Cuba, and perhaps Mexico and Central America as well.
In the criminal complaint, several of the victims reported violent episodes in which they were threatened and beaten by Morales or he threatened to hurt relatives in Cuba if they tried to flee.
In at least one case, Morales personally traveled to Cuba to pick up the alleged victim and transport her off the island by boat.
Authorities rescued four of the women between the ages of 21 and 25 in September, according to federal court documents.
The complaint includes a total of six female victims. None testified in court.
Statements from an alleged Morales partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity with Univisión 23, pointed out that he did not act alone and could be a member of a smuggling network that included more people. But the defendant’s lawyer, Stewart Glenn Abrams, told el Nuevo Herald that the plea agreement with the prosecution did not require Morales’ help in investigating other cases.
Previously, Martínez had denied Morales’ request to seek another defense attorney as well as the lawyer’s request to recuse himself from the case. In a letter written in English to the judge and dated March 6, the defendant wrote that “since the day of my arrest, I have been completely in the dark as to my position in this matter and my rights due to me to defend myself .” He also said he did not speak English and could not get useful information from his lawyer, whose only advice was allegedly to “sign a plea deal for 30 years” because the government “has witnesses.”
In response to Morales’ letter, his lawyer stated that the charges could result in a prison sentence of as much 149 years if Morales was found guilty of one of six offenses related to the sex trafficking of women and the rest of the charges.
Morales, who studied in Havana to become a high school teacher and who is not a U.S. citizen, now also faces the possibility of deportation.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter:@ngameztorres