NH Guard officer charged in San Antonio sex-trafficking case
By Guillermo Contreras | San Antonio Express-News | Published: May 30, 2014
SAN ANTONIO — A military commander who teaches for the U.S. Army War College has been charged in San Antonio with participating in the sex trafficking of juveniles.
Army Lt. Col. Raymond Valas, who is in the New Hampshire National Guard, was arrested in Syracuse, New York, last week on a federal indictment filed in San Antonio.
Valas most recently commanded 1,400 troops of Joint Task Force Jaguar in rural western El Salvador and oversaw the “Beyond the Horizons” mission there last year — one of several humanitarian missions of U.S. Army South, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
He was added last week to a federal case in which Marcus Deshawn Wright, 38, and Malcolm Deandre Copeland, 21, of San Antonio were accused of being pimps and charged with sex trafficking of minors.
Federal prosecutors would not say Thursday whether Valas is accused of being a recruiter or a customer of the juveniles, who allegedly were forced or manipulated into prostitution. But a source said Valas is suspected of traveling here on purported government business, and also for “extracurricular activities” that included paying for sex.
The indictment alleges Valas participated in the sex-trafficking on a single date — Aug. 26, 2013.
The Beyond the Horizons mission Valas oversaw involved building schools as well as medical, dental and veterinary work by military professionals from the U.S., El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Canada, according to news reports.
Valas also is listed as a 2013-2014 Army War College fellow at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University. His lecture topics have included the military's role in combating the MS-13 gang.
Martin Wahls, the institute's communications manager, declined Thursday to comment on Valas.
Wright and Copeland are accused of targeting runaways, placing Internet ads advertising the juveniles as “escorts,” and keeping most of the proceeds from customers.
Valas' indictment comes two months after Amber Doak, 20, pleaded guilty in the case to sex trafficking of children. She admitted to her role in prostituting a 15-year-old girl in August.
The victim was one of two juveniles found at a Windcrest motel when the FBI and San Antonio police broke up the ring last fall.
Doak admitted she encouraged the minor to engage in sex acts for money. She also said she used a mobile phone provided by Wright to take pictures of the victim so Wright and Copeland could use them to advertise the minor on Backpage.com.
Doak also said she fielded inquiries from people responding to the ads and traveled with Wright and Copeland as they took the victim to multiple locations to engage in sex for money.
After Doak pleaded guilty, a new indictment filed last week included allegations that Wright and Copeland trafficked a second juvenile. That teen, identified by initials, is the one Valas is accused of being involved with.
Doak remains in federal custody and faces 10 years to life in federal prison when Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery sentences her in September. Copeland and Wright, who are also behind bars, are set for trial later this year before Biery.
They and Valas each face 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
Copeland also is serving a five-year sentence for a separate case in which he and cousin Joshua Louis Edwards operated an adult prostitution ring out of a commercial space registered with the city as a candle store. The Northwest Side business, which operated for two months in 2012, was in a shopping center that also included a magic shop, a day care and a children's hair salon, authorities said.
Edwards, who didn't show up to his sentencing hearing in October, was considered a fugitive until his apprehension in Costa Rica in March. He has a new sentencing hearing set for Tuesday.
Valas, meanwhile, appeared before a federal judge in Syracuse last week and was ordered held without bail pending his transfer to San Antonio.
He was commissioned in 1995 through the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of New Hampshire and is assigned as a reserve officer in the New Hampshire National Guard, according to his biography.