Investigators say the women were all brought to Madera from other countries and may have been too afraid to leave the homes where they were working. Authorities believe the brothels serviced about 40 people a day until officers moved in and made arrests on Sunday night.
A small stucco home on H Street in Madera sits in plain sight of thousands of drivers each day on Highway 99. But from the outside, it's impossible to tell what police say was happening inside: men paying $40 for 15 minutes with a prostitute.
"The individuals would show up at the brothels and present a business card. If they had that, then they were allowed to come in," said Madera police Cmdr. Dino Lawson.
Officers learned about this home and another one on B Street through an ongoing investigation. They served search warrants Sunday evening and made five arrests. Hector Flores and Vladimir Valentine were booked into jail on pimping charges, while Victoria Genarina, Melani Jimenez and Lidia Sierra are being held for prostitution. Several neighbors we spoke with say they never noticed anything suspicious.
"That's crazy; I didn't know that," said Sulma Martinez of Madera.
The Special Investigation Unit says the suspects primarily targeted farmworkers as customers, and the women in this case are from El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, and just arrived in Madera last week. Cmdr. Lawson says they were not held by force but may have been manipulated by fear.
"There were a set of rules that stated that they could not leave, and if they left the house they had to be escorted," said Lawson.
Now authorities are doing follow up work to determine if the accused prostitutes are actually victims of human trafficking.
"To be taken from another country, not knowing anything about here, and thinking that you're going to get a better life, and all of a sudden now you're wrapped up into this, the prostitution," said Lawson.
Madera police say these are the third and fourth brothels they've busted in the past two years. All four had similar operating procedures but involved different suspects.