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Neighbors unaware of activity at alleged Austin brothel

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

Residents of a southwest Austin home that allegedly served as a brothel didn’t draw much attention to themselves, neighbors say.

Angel Barnes, who lives a few houses away, said she didn’t even know people were living there. The place was quiet since her family moved to the neighborhood last fall, she said.

"I’m amazed none of us knew about it," Barnes said.

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Barnes said that about six law enforcement vehicles were on the street Saturday morning when authorities entered the house in the 1100 block of 10th Avenue Southwest, south of the fairgrounds.

Federal authorities forced open a door but no one was inside, Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp said. Authorities collected evidence, he said.

Two Austin residents were among 25 people indicted Monday in federal court for operating a prostitution ring since January 2006, mainly in the Twin Cities but including the house in Austin. All of the suspects were arrested during the weekend.

The ring allegedly involved coercing and enticing female illegal immigrants and others into Minnesota and taking them throughout the state to engage in sex acts for money.

Charges include conspiracy, transporting a person to engage in prostitution, and coercion and enticement of another to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution.

Miguel Isep-Roman, 32, also known as Meilton Rodriguez and "Angel," allegedly operated the Austin brothel and promoted it by distributing business cards. Isep-Roman allegedly distributed cards on May 9 at Mystic Lake Casino near Prior Lake, Minn. Isep-Roman, an illegal immigrant, also is accused of transporting prostitutes between brothels.

Keila Villanueva, 37, also known by the first name Kayla, also is accused of operating the brothel in Austin, according to the indictment. Villanueva is in the United States legally, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Philipp said his department didn’t know about the alleged brothel until federal authorities said a few weeks ago that they were watching the house. Police were told Friday that authorities planned to search the house the next day, he said.

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"They were really not forthcoming with information to us," Philipp said.

The chief said he’s not aware of any complaints about the house.

Lee Heine, who lives across the street from the alleged brothel, said she never had problems with the residents. She saw residents come and go but never spoke to them, Heine said, and they seemed pretty quiet.

"It is kind of shocking when it’s that close to you," Heine said.

Heine said she hadn’t seen anyone at the house for about three weeks before the raid on Saturday.

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