Bad Neighbors: Why the Brothel-Next-Door Goes Unnoticed

Brothel next door: 3011 S. Millard Avenue, Chicago
Brothel next door: 3011 S. Millard Avenue, Chicago

3011 S. Millard Avenue in the Chicago neighborhood of Little Village looks from the outside like a regular family home. It's located on a block that, statistically, is one of the safest police beats in the city. But looks can be deceiving: The home turned out to be a neighborhood brothel run by 40-year-old "madam" Rubicela Montero (pictured below left).

Rubicela Montero ran a brothel in Chicago.
Rubicela Montero ran a brothel in Chicago.

As WBBM-TV in Chicago reported, Montero used the home to pimp young women and girls for years. The purported prostitution operation was only unveiled after one of the girls called the National Human Trafficking Resource Center to report illegal activity occurring inside Montero's nondescript home.

In a similar case, New York madam Anna Gristina allegedly ran a $10 million prostitution operation from a cramped, $600-a-month subleased one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side -- for over 15 years. (See the video below.) Like the Millard Avenue house, Apartment 2F at 304 E. 76th St, was unassuming, "humble" and nothing out of the ordinary, reported The New York Post. (The building also housed an Indian restaurant downstairs.)

And just two weeks ago, a nondescript apartment at 2118 Shoshone Ave. in Chico, Calif., was busted as the home of yet another long-time neighborhood brothel -- and also allegedly harbored illegal immigrants. The brothel was run by Roberto Urbina-Gonzales, who was also the apartment manager of the complex, police said.

"There was a lot of traffic, lots of in and out [of the apartment]," neighbor Jason Orlandi told local ABC affiliate KRCR. "But they kept to themselves."

'I'll Mind My Own Business'

You might assume that you'd know if a neighbor was running a prostitution ring from their own home -- but police say it's not as obvious as you'd think, particularly in busy, well-populated areas.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the reason Rubicela Montero's brothel was able to operate undetected for so long was due to the abundance of foot traffic in Little Village, especially close to 26th Street. Next-door neighbors admitted that they saw men "frequently arriving at the house at 31st and Millard" but explained that it was "not unusual" for Hispanics, often with large extended families, to have numerous and frequent visitors.

Chicago police Sgt. Traci Walker added that while officials are trained to notice unusual activity, residents are not. Even if they do pick up on criminal activity, Walker said, they may choose to look the other way. "Some figure, 'If it's not affecting me. I'll mind my own business," she told the Tribune.

The same "mind-your-own business" mentality can be applied to the Anna Gristina case, where her neighbors in that Upper East Side apartment building noticed suspicious activity but decided to turn a blind eye.

"She looked like a normal mom," website DNAinfo quoted a neighbor as saying of the madam. He added that attractive women could be seen constantly coming and going from Gristina's apartment for years, but the neighbor said that he simply chalked it up to "a sublet for college kids." Another neighbor told DNAinfo that the reveal was "shocking" and admitted that she "had no idea."

According to a spokesperson for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, neighbors will rarely assume that an illegal prostitution operation is operating right next to their own house.

"I think quite frequently that people don't know what they're seeing," spokeswoman Andrea Austin told The Baltimore Sun. "There might be suspicious behaviors, but they don't know it's a crime or who to call. It's more of a lack of understanding of what is going on."

If you suspect there is illegal sex trafficking happening in your neighborhood, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 or report a tip online.

See also: Keep Bad Neighbors From Derailing a Home Sale

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