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PHOENIX (AP) — A Mexican man accused of sexually attacking a 14-year-old girl as he smuggled a group of people into the U.S. has pleaded guilty to having sexual contact with a minor.
The plea marked a rare conviction for a crime that authorities say seldom gets reported by victims who are sexually attacked as they sneak into the country.
Jose Ramon Mancinas-Flores, 23, could face five to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty Monday in Santa Cruz County to human smuggling and sexual contact with a minor that stemmed from an illegal border crossing in December.
Investigators say Mancinas-Flores separated the girl from a group of people being smuggled and sexually attacked her. The crime was reported to authorities after the group was apprehended by the Border Patrol.
It's rare for females who are sexually assaulted during illegal crossings to report the crimes, because they are threatened by their attackers and fear they will be deported if they hold attackers accountable, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, whose office investigated the case.
"Unfortunately, it happens more often than we get reports on," Estrada said.
James Miller, Mancinas-Flores' attorney, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 13.
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