Alejandro Young-Hernandez won't be seeing the inside of a prison cell after all.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha sentenced Young-Hernandez to two years' probation for connecting migrant workers on Vermont dairy farms with Hispanic prostitutes from New York City. Murtha said Young-Hernandez's help in convicting two other co-conspirators justified the leniency.
Young-Hernandez — who nicknamed himself "Don Chingon," Spanish slang for "The Man" or "The Main Man" — faced up to five years in federal prison for violating the law known as the Mann Act. Thursday's sentencing took place in Brattleboro but was broadcast via video conference at the federal courthouse in Burlington.
"I have been living a nightmare these last couple of years," Young-Hernandez told the judge. "I never in my life did anything like that and will never do anything again."
As reported in this week's issue of Seven Days, Young-Hernandez was the fourth person sentenced in a farmworker prostitution ring that federal authorities began unraveling in 2011. Young-Hernandez, who often went by the more American-sounding "Alex Young," was a middle man who forwarded farmworker requests for prostitutes to a pimp in Queens, N.Y. who brought young Hispanic women to service as many as 10 men a day in Vermont dairy farms for $50 apiece.
A native of Mexico who became a naturalized American citizen, Young-Hernandez was a state employee for 15 years — six as a correctional officer in St. Johnsbury and nine as a human services case worker at the Department for Children and Families. Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Ross asked the judge to impose some sort of imprisonment — at the least home confinement — in part because he engaged in the cirmes as a "trusted state employee."
Ross noted that Young-Hernandez made money by selling clothing, food and other goods he purchased to isolated farmworkers at prices that were marked up 30 to 50 percent. "Home confinement would curtail the interactions with that community," she told the judge.
Addressing the judge, Young-Hernandez said, "I go to farms to provide goods and services. They treat me as a friend. They are all in need of things I can provide them. It's just a way of life. That's how I support myself."
His attorney, Burlington lawyer Frank Twarog, buttressed his client's argument with a story about his own recent sickness with the flu. Twarog told the judge that after four days laid up in his house, he was "stir crazy."
"That's what Alex has been living with. He has become a recluse," Twarog said. "He has a hard time getting out to do what he needs to do."
Murtha agreed. "Obviously you have committed a serious offense and it's disturbing, frankly, because of your [state] jobs and contacts," the judge said. "I don't consider your actions as serious as the others. You're going to have to survive by legal means.
"I think you've learned a lesson," the judge added. "A serious one."
The feds' investigation into the prostitution may not be over. As Seven Days reported this week, the FBI has secured a search warrant for a Blackberry belonging to the man who was the prostitution ringleader to search for other "customers and cospirators."