WHEATON, Md. (ABC7) — On Monday, an alleged MS-13 associate is scheduled to be tried in Montgomery County Circuit Court for reportedly paying to have sex with a 14-year-old girl, and then blackmailing the teen with compromising video he took of her.
According to court documents obtained by ABC7, the girl was a human trafficking victim within the ‘Pinos Locos’ clique of MS-13, which made the suburban town of Wheaton its hub for illegal dealings.
Detectives explain the girl worked as a cocktail waitress at Lilly’s Restaurant in downtown Wheaton. Her primary duty there was to “conduct cocaine and marijuana sales, and serve alcohol to customers,” a high-ranking MS-13 member would ultimately tell detectives in exchange for more favorable treatment. “A lot of money was made for her services.”
In one instance, the girl attempted to quit. She was later summoned to a home along Valley View Avenue in Kensington and beaten in the backyard with a baseball bat. The girl recalled more than 25 excruciating blows to her body. Such attacks were used as a form of “motivation” to keep girls in line, the same high-ranking MS-13 member explained.
“Many of the victims are under the age of 18 and have been reported by their families as missing persons,” police outlined in court documents. “Often, these females are brainwashed into believing that they need to depend on the gang for survival.”
One evening in August 2017, the teenage victim, fellow cocktail waitresses and MS-13 members walked a few blocks from Lilly’s Restaurant to Umberto’s Night Club to enjoy some music and dancing. The victim recalled MS-13 member Willian Benavides-Pena coerce her to flirt with an older-looking man named Felix. As the night winded down, Benavides-Pena ordered the victim go home with Felix.
“I know you don’t want to do it, but I need this, this man has a lot of money and I need you to do me a favor,” the victim recalled Benavides-Pena tell her, knowing full well she was being pawned in exchange for drugs and/or cash.
The victim told police she got into a taxi with Felix, strictly due to fear of otherwise getting beaten again with a baseball bat. The cab dropped the duo off at a home along Bluhill Road, directly across the street from Wheaton High School.
According to the victim, Felix led her into a basement bedroom where she told him she was only 14-years-old. Yet, Felix reportedly told the teen to “just get comfortable” and then had sexual intercourse with her.
The victim described Felix as having grayish-brown hair and a beer belly. “He was like a grandpa," she stated.
As the victim prepared to leave the house along Bluhill Road, Felix allegedly confessed that he had recorded video of their sexual encounter and would leak that video if she did not continue to meet him on lonely nights moving forward.
And so to maintain her image, the victim reportedly had sex with Felix around five to six more times. He even dropped in at Lilly’s Restaurant during her 15th birthday party.
The girl cut Felix off only after Montgomery County Police arrested a contingent of MS-13 members in November 2017, for their involvement in a rash of check-cashing business heists. Miguel Ayala-Rivera, 24, was among those booked on multiple counts of armed robbery and assault.
Numerous confidential sources labeled Ayala-Rivera as a local MS-13 kingpin who, among other things, made a habit of pimping out underage girls. A search of Ayala-Rivera’s cell phone uncovered text messages ordering baseball bat beatings against girls who had been deemed as disobedient.
It was around this time that Montgomery County Police convinced the girl to confide in them, and in turn, help craft a robust criminal case to deconstruct MS-13 in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She took them up on the offer.
In July 2018, police drove to the Bluhill Road address to interview the man known as Felix. However, a resident shared that Felix had abruptly moved out four months earlier. At the time, Felix had claimed he was headed "out of state for work.” The resident added that Felix often loitered outside the Home Depot in Aspen Hill where he would solicit foreman in the parking lot of the hardware store for day work.
Sure enough, police spotted Felix at the Home Depot that same day. He provided officers with a CASA de Maryland membership photo I.D. card with the name Felix Silva-Zuniga printed on it, plus a new address along Edgewood Road in Silver Spring.
Police handcuffed the 52-year-old and drove him to the 4th District Station in Wheaton. While en-route, an officer saw Silva-Zuniga dipping his hands into his pants. That same officer later found a plastic bag with “white colored rock-like substances” in the back of the police cruiser. That substance was identified as suspected cocaine.
Speaking through a Spanish translator, Silva-Zuniga reportedly told investigators that he did indeed pay $100 to have sex with the 14-year-old girl, but denied filming their sexual encounter or knowing how old she was.
Simultaneously, officers served a search warrant at Silva-Zuniga’s new residence on Edgewood Road where they confiscated “numerous electronic recording devices.” Those devices were submitted to the crime lab for further analysis.
Police then texted a photo of Silva-Zuniga to the teenage victim in order to confirm they had detained the right man.
“I recognize the scar on his face,” the victim told police upon seeing that photograph. ”I am 100 percent sure that it is him.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Silva-Zuniga is living in the country illegally. Following his arrest in Montgomery County, ICE filed a deportation detainer against the Honduran native, labeling him as an “known associate of MS-13.”
Silva-Zuniga faces up to 47 years in prison for seven criminal counts including sexual solicitation of a minor, child pornography-filming sex act, prurient intent and possession of child pornography.
During his three-day trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday, prosecutors plan to call the victim's ex-boyfriend to the stand to testify how Silva-Zuniga showed him the sex tape, which reportedly captured the victim's face and tattoos.
Defense attorney Kathleen Dolan, who is representing the 52-year-old, declined comment when reached by telephone Thursday evening.
Investigators, however, underscore that the 14-year-old victim’s case is merely one piece to the MS-13 puzzle both within Montgomery County and the Washington, D.C. area as a whole. During a now years-long probe, Montgomery County authorities have identified more than 90 MS-13 members and associates responsible for crimes including murder, kidnapping, assault, robbery, burglary and theft.
UPDATE: CASA de Maryland tells ABC7 that Silva-Zuniga joined the immigration-advocacy organization in April 2011. He utilized interpreter services at the time due to an undisclosed medical condition. CASA explained Silva-Zuniga did not renew his membership as of October 2015.
“CASA is appalled by the abuse suffered by a teenager at the hands of MS-13 members as reported in the news today," said CASA spokeswoman Lizette Olmos. "Immigrant women and girls are subjected to shocking levels of sexual assault and violence and we stand strong together with our leaders to eradicate this crisis in our community and countries."