A practitioner of Brujeria is charged with sex trafficking in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – A man was arrested and taken into custody on October 11 on charges of sex trafficking of an adult and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking in Las Vegas, Nevada. Said Rodriguez-Rodriguez was charged after nearly six months of investigation by Metropolitan Police officers. When officers interviewed several women who were found to be working at the brothel, the women told the officers that Rodriguez-Rodriguez performed Brujeria and animal offerings. and was known as El Padrino, which means ‘the Godfather’ but is an honorific in various faiths like Lukumí.

[Las Vegas. Photo Credit: LasVegasLover CCA 3.0]

According to police, Rodriguez-Rodriguez often sat outside in his car while men went into the home. The women who police believed to be working in the home stated that the man they called El Padrino would sacrifice doves and chickens, and smear blood from the offerings on the walls of the home. There were also bloodstains found on a shrine in front of the home, and in the garage.

The women who worked at the brothel asserted that the woman who ran the brothel, Jazmin Russo-Martinez, threatened to curse anyone who left. Russo-Martinez reportedly told the women that she could speak with the dead and that if they stopped working, they would die, citing a supposed incident wherein a woman who had previously left was stabbed to death shortly thereafter.

El Padrino was adamant to police that he did not threaten the women or curse them, but did admit to performing the offerings in the home.

El Padrino is currently being held without bail at least until March 2, 2021, when he is scheduled to appear in court in Las Vegas. While there was also a warrant issued for Russo-Martinez, she has not yet been arrested and taken into custody.

Brujeria is often erroneously conflated or assumed to be interchangeable with Pagan Witchcraft. It is in fact a practice of service deeply rooted in the melding of Indigenous practices with Catholicism, often incorporating elements of European witchcraft, but not always. It has been practiced in many parts of Latin America, most notably with strong Mexica and Mayan traditions for over 500 years.

Brujeria is not a set of defined or uniform practices—most of the information has been passed along orally, and practices also vary by region and cultural derivation.

Brujería Túcume [Photo credit: Greyson Garcia CC BY-SA 4.0]

Although the recent case in Las Vegas showcases Brujeria in a negative, exploitative light, it is not an inherently ‘evil’ or dark practice or magic. Rather actions, spells, or sacrifices are seen in light of being justified or not justified, and the work of a Brujo or Bruja is a service that is rendered to a person or community who is looking for a specific outcome.  Brujeria is not harm-averse if the results are considered to be justified in the eyes of the person or group requesting the service.

While Brujeria has clear connections with Catholicism, the Catholic church does not endorse it, and officially condemns the practice. This, along with a focus in the media on the seedier or more sensational public expressions of Brujeria, has helped reinforce a negative view in the general public.

While there are many Pagans today who utilize Brujeria in their practices or consider themselves Brujos or Brujas, there are a significant number of practitioners who would consider themselves unequivocally Christian or Catholic.

Complicating people’s perceptions of Brujeria are the numerous reports of supposed practitioners preying on emotionally-vulnerable individuals, interpersonally and increasingly online.

Additional confusion arises in the general public who do not always understand the differences between Brujeria—largely based in Mexican and Mexican-American traditions—and Cuban Lukumí, Haitian Vodou, as well as other religions and regionally-derived magic and healing systems.

Brujeria is also often also conflated with Curanderismo, which offers healing through restoration of balance utilizing herbs, massage, and spells. In some regions and especially in the older generations, matters are further complicated and curanderos, who are given their gift of healing from God, are seen as the ‘good’ counterpoint to the ‘evil’ brujos.

While it may appear that Rodriguez-Rodriguez was working with Brujeria in order to constrain or keep the women from leaving or reporting on the brothel, for most practitioners it may be a healing and solutions-based magical service.

Brujeria is not hierarchical by nature.  Brujos and Brujas are very often approached as healers and problem-solvers for their communities. They are known for their skill and the results they produced.

It is unclear if the man calling himself El Padrino was simply performing offerings and rituals as a service for Jazmin Russo-Martinez, the woman running the brothel, if they were partners both utilizing Brujeria to control the actions and movements of the women working there, or if he was in fact essentially running the show. No further information on this specific case is yet available.