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Nine Charged in Sex Trafficking Ring Involving Guatemalan MinorsSalem-News.com
Victims as young as 13 were promised jobs, then suffered threats and beatings.
(LOS ANGELES) - Six members of a Guatemalan family and three associates have been indicted for their roles in a sex trafficking ring that recruited young women in Guatemala with false promises of high-paying jobs, smuggled the victims into the United States, and forced them to work as prostitutes to pay smuggling fees.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles yesterday returned a 50-count superseding indictment, unsealed today following the arrest of a new defendant involved in the sex trafficking scheme.
The superseding indictment, which replaces charges first filed in December 2006, adds allegations of sex trafficking of minors; sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits interstate or foreign transport of minors for prostitution; and importing and harboring aliens for purposes of prostitution.
The indictment discusses 12 victims who were forced to work as prostitutes, including five minors.
The indictment details alleged abuses of the women including guarding the victims to prevent their escape; threats of violence to the women and of harm to their families in Guatemala; and beatings to coerce and force the victims into working.
According to the indictment, leaders of the conspiracy sometimes helped each other by selling a victim to another defendant who could better control her and by jointly beating a victim who had tried to run away.
"The crimes alleged in this case involve the exploitation for personal gain of young girls rendered vulnerable by their age and desire for a better life," said U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona. "The defendants played on these vulnerabilities to operate a highly organized trafficking ring in the very heart of Los Angeles for several years, counting on their victims' fears to prevent their discovery. We hope these charges address these fears by demonstrating that, with the help of the Human Trafficking task force that has been established here in Los Angeles, we will work quickly to protect those who step forward to reveal such rings, and will prosecute those responsible."
The nine defendants named in the second superseding indictment are:
Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela, 36; Mirna Jeanneth Vasquez Valenzuela, aka Miriam, 26; Maria De Los Angeles Vicente, aka Angela, 28; Albertina Vasquez Valenzuela, aka Christina, 49; Gabriel Mendez, 33; Luis Vicente Vasquez, 31; Pablo Bonifacio, 30; Flor Morales Sanchez, 33, a new defendant; and Maribel Rodriguez Vasquez, a new defendant.
Morales Sanchez was arrested this morning and is expected to make her first court appearance this afternoon.
Rodriguez Vasquez has been a fugitive since the prostitution ring was first dismantled last year. The remaining seven defendants have been held without bond since December 2006.
"The defendants in this case are accused of dreadful crimes including luring desperate women to the U.S. with false promises only to enrich themselves by forcing their victims into prostitution and slavery. The FBI and our partners with the Human Trafficking Task Force in Los Angeles are dedicated to finding victims of human trafficking, who endure horrific abuse under appalling conditions, and to finding those responsible for their suffering," said J. Stephen Tidwell, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Office.
The investigation into the sex trafficking ring began after a source came forward and contacted authorities in October 2006.
Two victims were liberated by law enforcement authorities in November. Additional victims were rescued and seven of the defendants were taken into custody in December.
"These young women were enticed into coming to this country by promises of the American dream, only to arrive and discover that what awaited was a nightmare," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles.
"The filing of sex trafficking charges in this case underscores ICE's resolve to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure that those who engage in this reprehensible form of exploitation are brought to justice."
The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The investigation into the alien smuggling ring was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General and the Los Angeles Police Department, all of which are participants in the Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force.
The case is being jointly prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline C. Wittcoff and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Cyra O'Daniel of the Civil Rights Division.
Human trafficking prosecutions are a top priority of the Justice Department.
In the last six fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys Offices, has increased by six-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court.
In 2006, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions.
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