HOUSTON — The lights are off and the gate is locked outside the Las Vegas Night Club off West Hardy Road.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has permanently pulled the liquor license of the north Houston bar after investigating allegations of human trafficking and prostitution. They say criminal charges have also been filed against several suspects from the establishment.
Investigators with TABC’s Special Investigations Unit said they spoke with multiple women believed to be working at the small bar at 12629 W. Hardy Road. They said the bar was operating as a "brothel."
“Prostitution is one of the leading indicators of even more serious organized criminal activity, including human trafficking," TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles said in a statement. "TABC will continue to actively investigate and put a stop to any criminal activity taking place in the businesses we license.”
TABC Victim Services offered assistance to all of the possible victims of human trafficking identified that night, agency representatives said in the statement.
Investigators initially served the bar owner with an emergency order requiring them to stop all alcohol and service for 90 days. Further investigation led them to cancel the license permanently.
TABC Public Information Officer Chris Porter said it’s possible some customers never even knew what was happening in the back rooms of the bar, but they found multiple beds and evidence of prostitution, along with five to 10 women who were identified as possible victims of human trafficking.
“For many people like you or I, we would go to this place and have no idea," Porter said. “Eventually, (we) discovered that there was in fact prostitution taking place inside the business. Over the last year, we’ve extended services to about 76 potential victims of human trafficking and prostitution."
Encountering human trafficking is not new for TABC and agents are trained specifically to spot human trafficking. Sometimes, legitimate TABC licensed bars are a front for illegal activity.
“The good thing about TABC is because we regulate these businesses that sell alcohol, we are able to conduct inspections essentially any time we wish," Porter said.
Porter said they know the activity continues to happen inside bars across the state so they want you to be aware of what those warning signs look like.
“Any signs that an employee may be unable or disallowed from leaving a premise whenever they want to," Porter said. “If you observe any type of suspicious doorways or things like secret rooms or secret beds that are found at a location, those are definitely signs of human trafficking.”
He said if an employee looks nervous or fearful, that’s also a sign. If you see any of these red flags, contact the police or TABC.
The suspects charged in connection with the case have not been identified.
The case remains under investigation.
Joining TABC on the investigation were the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Investigations Division, FBI, Harris County Constable’s Office – Precinct 1, U.S. Department of State and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
Resources for victims of human trafficking
If You or Someone You Know are in Danger and Need Immediate Help:
- Call 911 for the local police department
- National Human Trafficking Hotline:1-888-373-7888
- Text: 233733
- Chat online with Human Trafficking Hotline.