Bar owner, DPS trooper plead not guilty to multiple rape charges

Prosecutor: Defendant traveled to Mexico to find young girls

EDINBURG — A Mission woman accused of raping underage girls is accused of traveling to Mexico to recruit them and force them to work at her bar.

New details emerged during the formal arraignment of Rita Martinez Moreno, a Mission woman and owner of a bar in rural Mission accused of forcing young girls to work at her bar, raping them, and allowing others to rape them, over a span of several years, beginning in the year 2000.

During the hearing, the chief prosecutor of the county’s special victims division, Hope Palacios, who represents the state in the case, citing the defendant’s ties to Mexico, requested the court to set a high bond for the 61-year-old woman.

Palacios said, Martinez, the owner of a bar called “Rita’s Sports Bar,” located in the 7700 block of 7 Mile Road, in rural Mission, would allegedly travel into communities in Mexico and bring back young girls with her to work for her at the bar she owns.

“She does have very strong ties to Mexico, and in fact, many of these children, or young girls, were brought from Mexico,” Palacios said. “The defendant would travel into a community in Mexico and bring these children across.”

Palacios, who also asked the court to set conditions of bond for Martinez, including requests that she avoid contact with all co-defendants and victims in the case, said one of the victims was placed in protective custody after an associate of Martinez’s contacted her.

Martinez was arrested July 31 as part of an investigation into her bar lead by a Special Investigations Unit of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

In addition to Martinez, authorities also arrested Martinez’s son and bar employee, Genaro Fuentes, 36, of Mission; a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, Juan Angel Barrientos, of Edinburg; and another Mission man, Mariano Israel Vera, 53, in connection with sexual assault charges.

According to the 31-count indictment against Martinez, in addition to allegedly trafficking underage girls, Martinez is accused of raping at least two of the three victims named in the document.

Palacios stated this and other reasons during the hearing as basis for requesting a significant bond for Martinez, who the prosecutor said, had “strong ties to Mexico.”

Martinez, for her part, waived the reading of the more than 30-count indictment, and pleaded not guilty to all counts, which includes one count of trafficking of persons, one count of manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, 14 counts of sexual assault of a child, and 15 counts of aggravated sexual assault.

The Monitor does not identify victims of sexual abuse, and the indictment uses a pseudonym for the three named in the indictment.

Martinez is accused of sexual assault of a child, and aggravated sexual assault, against Kenia Garcia, a pseudonym, in the following instances: December 2000, January 2001, June 2001, December 2001, January 2002, June 2002, December 2002 and June 2003.

Martinez on the aforementioned dates “intentionally and knowingly cause(d) the penetration of the sexual organ of Kenia Garcia, a pseudonym, a child who was then and there younger than 17 years of age,” and “intentionally and knowingly cause the penetration of the sexual organ of Kenia Garcia, a pseudonym, without the consent of Kenia Garcia, and (Martinez) did then and there by acts or words, threaten to cause or place Kenia Garcia in fear that serious bodily injury would be imminently inflicted on Kenia Garcia.”

In addition to Kenia Garcia, Martinez is accused of sexually assaulting at least two more victims, identified under pseudonyms, one of whom was also a minor.

The indictment charges that between August 2005 and May 2006, Martinez is accused of sexually assaulted Imelda Gonzalez, a pseudonym, several times.

Martinez is accused of sexual assault of a child, and aggravated sexual assault against Imelda Gonzalez in 10 instances between August and December 2005, and between January and May 2006.

Also, Martinez faced two charges related to her abuse of a woman identified under the pseudonym Lucia Garcia.

Martinez is accused of trafficking Lucia Garcia sometime in August 2009, “with the intent or knowledge that Lucia Garcia will engage in forced labor or services,” and “did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the penetration of the sexual organ of Lucia Garcia,” the indictment reads.

Martinez’s attorney, Hector Hernandez Jr., challenged the state’s bond recommendation, stating the bond should be fair, and not unnecessarily high. He said Martinez is a legal permanent resident, who has lived in the country for more than 30 years, and who does not have a prior criminal record. Hernandez asked for $5,000 cash surety on all the charges.

State District Judge Israel Ramon, after considering the arguments, set a total bond of $2,875,000, $250,000 bond for count 1, $75,000 bond for each sexual assault of a child charge, and $100,000 for each aggravated sexual assault charge.

Hernandez, after the hearing, declined to comment on his client’s behalf.

CO-DEFENDANTS

Prior to her hearing, one of her co-defendants, Barrientos, appeared for his arraignment hearing, during which he pleaded not guilty to three counts of sexual assault of a child, court staff stated.

The DPS trooper is accused of several instances of sexual assault of a child in 2001, and twice in 2002, according to the two-page unsealed indictment against him.

“(Barrientos), on the first day of December 2001, did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the penetration of the sexual organ of Kenia Garcia, a pseudonym, a child who was then and there younger than 17 years of age,” the record shows.

He’s accused of sexually assaulting Kenia Garcia on two subsequent occasions once in January 2002, and once in February 2002.

Barrientos is a longtime lawman, who began his career more than 20 years ago in 1996 with the San Benito Police Department, until early 1998, when he moved to Edinburg and became a police officer with the Edinburg Police Department beginning in May 1998.

The 48-year-old worked as a police officer in Edinburg until about October 2002, according to public Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. The allegations against the trooper took place during his time as a police officer in Edinburg.

TCOLE records show Barrientos has been a trooper with DPS since April 2003.

According to a DPS spokesman, Barrientos was placed on suspension shortly after his arrest, but would not comment further on whether he was on paid or unpaid suspension.

During Barrientos’ hearing, the state also asked for a modification to his conditions of bond, which are the same as his co-defendants, including avoiding contact with the alleged victims, and anyone under 17 years of age.

Barrientos’ attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, spoke to The Monitor after the hearing, and said his client denied the allegations against him.

“We adamantly deny each and every allegation contained in the indictment and we look forward to our day in court,” Garcia said.

Garcia expressed concern about the allegations brought by the state against his client, which stem from more than 15 years ago, beginning in 2001.

“How is a person accused of a crime like this supposed to find witnesses to show where he was at a certain time, or wasn’t at a certain time — when (the charges) are so outlandish and stale — that’s why we look forward to get this in front of a court and jury,” Garcia said.

The Mission-based attorney said he expects this case to go to trial.

Martinez is due back before the court Oct. 1, while Barrientos is scheduled back before the court for a status hearing on Oct. 28, according to court staff.