In a dreary yellow living room, a gang leader named Rudy Villanueva leans toward a video camera to taunt the police. The word Cuban is tattooed across his forehead, and he waves two assault rifles above his head like a pair of trophies. "Metro-Dade gang unit, here I am, baby," he boasts. "Come get some."
Within days, the footage — which was posted on YouTube — began to circulate around the Miami-Dade Police Department. Cops took it as a challenge. Who did this ballsy felon think he was? You can't pack heat when you're a convict. This thug was going down.
So on January 15, 2008, a Miami-Dade SWAT team followed Rudy while he traveled in a Cadillac on a quiet South Miami road. His friends — who were trailing behind in a Range Rover — felt something hit them from behind. It was one of several undercover cop cars. Officers jumped out, pointed semiautomatic rifles, and shouted, "Let me see your fuckin' hands!" Rudy was pulled from his car, thrown to the ground, and cuffed.
It was one of those departmental victories that incited a media frenzy (cops, 1; gangsters, 0). Anybody who watched the news knew the name Bird Road Rudy. But the most compelling part of the story was never told.
Following in the SUV behind Rudy was a pudgy 30-year-old named Hugo Gonzalez. In the hours that followed, officers took him back to his million-dollar home, which stood on a one-and-a-half-acre lot in Glenvar Heights.
It wasn't a typical gangbanger's crib. A white electronic gate secured the front of the house. Around back were tennis courts, a guest home, and a pool that glistened in the fading light. The cops' goal: Find guns and drugs.
They found something else entirely: photos of nude young women, a disco ball, and sexy clothes strewn about. Stiletto heels and condoms dotted the bedrooms upstairs, a scene that was "consistent with a house of prostitution."
Sleeping in one of the bedrooms was a pretty 17-year-old former babysitter named L.G. She awoke, sat up, and told cops she was working as a hooker. The house was full of ladies like her, she explained, and Hugo was their pimp. He "required them to call him Daddy" and would "take all of their money," according to police reports.
A few hours later, detectives found porn clips of minors on a Mac, which Hugo had posted on a website called Newtothebiz.com. The site also advertised sexual services offered by the girls at the estate, earning him about $30,000 a month. It soon became clear the cops had stumbled upon one of South Florida's best-kept and most lucrative Internet prostitution dens. Hugo was arrested and charged with 34 counts of sex trafficking, racketeering, procuring prostitution, and sex with a minor. April "Diamond" Guadalupe — the madam, who also slept with the women — was also collared for sex trafficking.
At points, Hugo housed up to 12 girls in their late teens and early 20s. Most were runaways and former strippers from broken homes. At least two were minors. Ladies of the house were generally attractive, fit, and bisexual, with names like Giggles, Peaches, and Jade. They called the abode "the mansion."
In diary entries and New Times interviews with the prostitutes, they describe Hugo as a cult-like leader. He had sex with all of the women, forbade boyfriends, and financed their cosmetic surgery. Instead of violence, he controlled them with manipulation. "He's the perfect man," a redheaded escort named Pebbles says as if under a spell. "It was like a big family. Only kind of sick, if you think about it, because Dad and Mom were having sex with the kids."
Hugo is bald, has an underbite, and comes off about as threatening as a Sunday school teacher. This past September, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering and witness tampering. "I guess I was mind-fucking them," he reflects now. "The only punishment was getting kicked out."
Indeed, Hugo is rare in the annals of South Florida sex crime: He's still adored by his victims. Part shrewd businessman, part glittering patriarch, he ran something between a brothel and a halfway house — with intentions that can't easily be boiled down to good or bad. His is the story of the rise and fall of an illegal business, the strange culture inside the home, and the lives touched by the crime.
Says lead detective Tom Tundidor: "He took control of the girls at such a young age... Some of them may never fully recover."
Hugo counters he was merely a money manager, providing a safe haven for misfits who would have otherwise lived on the street.
Pebbles's mom agrees. "No parent wants her child doing this, but at least I could sleep at night knowing she was with Hugo."