'Operation Poker Chip' Nets 7 Human Trafficking Convictions In Tulsa

Tuesday, March 12th 2013, 8:10 am
By: Emory Bryan

Federal prosecutors Tuesday announced sentencing for seven people connected to a human trafficking case in Tulsa.

It came together when agents found a victim in east Tulsa. She was a woman from Mexico, being used as a sex slave, who told authorities she would see dozens of men each day.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Danny Williams said five men and two women were convicted and sentenced in federal court in Tulsa.

The FBI says this Tulsa case is just one of 400 they're working on nationwide.

They called this one "Operation Poker Chip," because that's how the men paid for sex, to keep even the cash away from the women trapped in this life as a prostitute. Law enforcement from a broad spectrum of agencies worked on the case that spanned several states, in just the first week.

It ended Monday and Tuesday, with successful prosecutions against seven people from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia.

Ringleader Juan Rosales-Garza got the longest sentence: more than 11 years in prison.

"What sets this human trafficking case apart from most is that this victim, after years of physical and verbal abuse, finds her way out of her horrific life," said David Marwell, of Homeland Security.


  • Juan Rosales Garza, aka "Fernando," pleaded guilty March 28, 2012, was sentenced Monday to a term of imprisonment for 135 months.
  • Sermaias Samuel Sanchez Ajin, pleaded guilty March 28, 2012, was sentenced Monday to time served (approximately 13 months).
  • Antonio Felix Velasquez-Lopez, aka "Tony," pleaded guilty April 24, 2012, was sentenced Monday to a term of imprisonment for 87 months.
  • Israel Velasquez-Ramirez, aka "Marcos," pleaded guilty April 11, 2012, sentenced Tuesday to a term of imprisonment for 18 months.
  • Piedad Garcia, pleaded guilty August 7, 2012, was sentenced Tuesday to a term of imprisonment for 24 months.
  • Gloria N. Giammalva, aka "Diana," pleaded guilty August 8, 2012, was sentenced Tuesday to a term of imprisonment for 21 months.
  • Ignacio Ijom-Brito, pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in December 2012, to 14 months in federal prison. 

Authorities tracked down the victim to the Cimarron Apartments in east Tulsa, where she was guarded and kept in a locked bedroom.

Williams said, in the nine days authorities were searching, the woman was moved from Houston to Oklahoma City to Tulsa.

"They move these ladies around on a daily basis, so many times it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, if we get lucky and these ladies come forward and we hit it at the right time, we can get them sacked up, in jail, get our indictments and get them prosecuted," Williams said.

A shoe served as a signal the victim used for law enforcement. She was secretly texting authorities, trying to get help.

"The symbol was putting that shoe in the windowsill behind the blinds, so when law enforcement arrived, we knew if that shoe was present, we had the right apartment," said Shannon Clark, of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities say there are surely more victims in Tulsa they don't know about, but say they've stopped this one ring of human traffickers and rescued at least two of their victims.

"For it to go from Tulsa, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, then we get all the defendants here, we prosecute them, we get them many months—it's a very satisfying case," Williams said.

Williams said federal and state investigators identified Juan Rosales-Garza and Gloria Giammalva, a married couple, as leaders of the sex trafficking organization that was operating in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee. 

They also identified Piedad Currea-Garcia as a leader within the organization that operated sex trafficking ventures in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

While investigating and tracking down the criminals involved in Tulsa, authorities found a second victim in Oklahoma City.

She was from El Salvador and both victims said they came to the U.S. thinking they were coming into legitimate jobs, but then were forced into prostitution.