He called himself the best bounty hunter in Texas. Now he’s accused of sex trafficking.
Luis “the HTown Hunter” Rodriguez had a message for fugitives. “You can run but you can’t hide from the best,” read the tagline on his website, where he offered his services as a bounty hunter. Rodriguez advertised himself as a kind of freelance police officer, hunting down Houstonites who skipped their bond appearances. But Texas fugitives weren’t the only ones who couldn’t escape Rodriguez, federal authorities allege.
Rodriguez, his girlfriend, and a third unnamed person are accused of luring young women to the U.S. under false pretenses, forcing them to sign massive debt agreements, and showing them Rodriguez’s bounty hunter videos in an effort to portray him as law enforcement.
Rodriguez, 26, had a television-ready background story.
“Schooled by a mysterious bandito-by-day, bounty-hunter-by-night called Wolf, [Rodriguez] learned the occupation by the side of this master, earning his own legal license to bounty hunt by the age of 18,” his biography on his website, HTown Hunter reads.
By age 21, he claims, he was “the widely acknowledged #1 Bounty Hunter in Houston,” and by 22 he was “arguably, the youngest, most accomplished bounty hunter in the world. Like a latter-day Tony Montana with a clean streak, Luis has gone straight to the top.”
With a slick social media presence and a personal bus emblazoned with a billboard-sized pictures of his face, Rodriguez made multiple appearances on local news broadcasts, where he said he planned on launching a reality television series about himself.
But while he was chasing down people who jumped bail, Rodriguez was running his own crime ring, federal authorities allege. On Friday, the U.S. Attorney in Texas’ Southern District Court partially unsealed charges against Rodriguez and his girlfriend, accusing the pair of visa fraud and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion.
The alleged scheme targeted young Colombian women, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Rodriguez and his girlfriend allegedly invited young women to move to the U.S., promising them work as dancers in a Houston nightclub. The jobs, at a strip club, were real. But when the women arrived in the country, Rodriguez allegedly “forced them into signing debt bondage contracts, ranging from $13,200 to $25,000,” and pushed them to engage in unspecified “commercial sex acts,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office claims.
To work off the debt, the women had to pay Rodriguez $250 daily, the indictment alleges. And when some women were slow to make payments, Rodriguez and his co-conspirators allegedly threatened to hurt them or their families.
In order to make Rodriguez appear more credible, he and his girlfriend allegedly forced trafficked women to watch videos on Rodriguez’s HTown Hunter YouTube page, where he posted clips of his interviews with local news stations. The pair allegedly presented the videos as evidence that Rodriguez was a licensed law enforcement officer, instead of a bounty hunter.
Even without threats of violence, escape from the alleged trafficking ring would have been difficult, feds claim. Rodriguez and his alleged accomplices were “constant monitoring and surveillance of [the women’s] locations and cellphones,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office says. On top of that, the group allegedly controlled the women’s interactions with immigrations officials, doctoring the women’s forms and coaching them on how to pass visa interviews.
Still, on Facebook, Rodriguez appeared to paint himself as sympathetic to the recent surge in arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants in his home state.
“#1 Bounty Hunter in Texas,” Rodriguez posted in February. “its my job to help catch those fugitives that run. Its hard when everyone has an Immigration Hold.”
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Rodriguez’s arrest came from a collaboration between Houston police and the FBI: two agencies Rodriguez claims to have worked alongside as a bounty hunter.
“Our apprehension team has worked with U.S. Marshals, F.B.I. Agents, and local police department,” his website reads.
The website also hosts a still-live merchandise store, where fans can buy HTown Hunter t-shirts.
“Only 25 years old and have more captures than your grandma has gray hairs,” reads one shirt, “Google me!”
A Google search now reveals that the HTown Hunter is expected to appear in court on Monday.