WASHINGTON – Five members of an extended family were sentenced to federal prison late yesterday, all receiving lengthy sentences for their roles in an international sex trafficking ring that lured young Guatemalan women and girls to the Los Angeles area and forced them into prostitution, the Justice Department announced.
The five defendants sentenced yesterday – four Guatemalan nationals and one Mexican national – were found guilty in February of various charges, including conspiracy; sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; and importation of aliens for purposes of prostitution. Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela, 38, was sentenced to 40 years in prison; Gabriel Mendez, the Mexican national, 35, was sentenced to 35 years; and the other three defendants, Mirna Jeanneth Vasquez Valenzuela, aka Miriam, 28, Maria de los Angeles Vicente, aka Angela, 30, and Maribel Rodriquez Vasquez, 29, were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Evidence showed that the defendants intimidated and controlled their victims by threatening to beat them and kill their loved ones in Guatemala if they tried to escape. Some defendants also used witch doctors to threaten the girls that a curse would be placed on them and their families if they tried to escape. At least two of the defendants further restrained the victims by locking them in at night and blocking windows and doors. The defendants also used manipulation of debts, verbal abuse and psychological manipulation to reinforce their control over the victims. The scheme included strict controls over the victims’ work schedules and ominous comments about consequences that befell the families of other victims who attempted to escape.
The defendants collected the profits generated by the acts of prostitution the victims were compelled to perform, and maintained control over the proceeds, keeping tens of thousands of dollars while the victims received next to nothing.
"The young girls and women in this case were victimized and exploited in a horrific way, and these sentences should send a stern message to all sex traffickers that they cannot escape justice for such egregious human rights violations," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Attorneys in the Civil Rights Division will continue to work with U.S. Attorney's Offices across the nation to stamp out this vicious and intolerable crime, and to seek significant prison sentences for anyone engaging in these despicable acts."
"In this disturbing case, the defendants lured young, uneducated and impoverished women and girls to the United States, where they were forced to work as prostitutes in terrifying conditions," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien for the Central District of California. "There were at least 10 victims who were forced into becoming prostitutes under a variety of threats, as well as actual physical attacks that included rapes."
"These sentences are a stern reminder about the consequences facing those involved in the unconscionable practice of human trafficking," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "While we can’t erase the suffering these young women experienced, by aggressively investigating and prosecuting these cases, ICE and the other members of the Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force are ensuring that those involved in schemes like this pay a significant price for the pain they cause."
Four additional defendants have pleaded guilty for their role in the scheme. Flor Morales Sanchez was sentenced in May to two years in prison; Pablo Bonifacio was sentenced last November to 33 months in prison; Albertina Vasquez Valenzeula, also known as Cristina, was sentenced in February to 33 months in prison. The final defendant, Luis Vicente Vasquez, is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cheryl O’Connor Murphy, Curtis A. Kin, Anthony J. Lewis, Sara J. Heidel and Special Litigation Counsel Andrew J. Kline from the Civil Rights Division. The case was investigated by the FBI, ICE and the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General.