Return to the 2009 Press Release Index
Release No. 09-103
August 18, 2009
FIVE INVOLVED IN INTERNATIONAL SEX TRAFFICKING RING SENTENCED TO LENGTHY PRISON TERMS FOR FORCING GUATEMALAN GIRLS AND WOMEN TO WORK AS PROSTITUTES IN LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES – Five people related to an extended Guatemalan family were sentenced to federal prison late yesterday, all receiving multi-decade sentences for their roles in an international sex trafficking ring that lured young Guatemalan women and girls into the Los Angeles area and forced them into prostitution.
“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 United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “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.”
The five defendants sentenced yesterday evening – four Guatemalan nationals and one Mexican national – were found guilty in February of various charges that include conspiracy; sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; and importation of aliens for purposes of prostitution.
The defendants are:
Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela, 38, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison
Mirna Jeanneth Vasquez Valenzuela, aka Miriam, 28, who was sentenced to 30 years;
Gabriel Mendez, the Mexican national, 35, who was sentenced to 35 years;
Maria de los Angeles Vicente, aka Angela, 30, who was sentenced to 30 years; and
Maribel Rodriquez Vasquez, 29, who was sentenced to 30 years.
During yesterday’s sentencing hearing, United States District Judge Margaret M. Morrow described the defendants’ conduct as “horrific,” “egregious” and “repugnant.”
The evidence in the case 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 three of the defendants further restrained the victims by locking them in at night and blocking windows and doors to prevent their escape. The defendants also used manipulation of debts, verbal abuse and psychological manipulation to reinforce their control over the victims. The scheme also included strict controls over the victims’ work schedules and ominous comments about consequences that befell the families of other victims who attempted to escape. Some of the victims were forced to have with as many as 30 men per day.
The defendants collected the profits generated by the acts of prostitution the victims were compelled to perform, and maintained control over the prostitution proceeds, earning 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.”
Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles, stated: “These sentences are a stern reminder about the consequences facing those involved in the unconscionable practice of human trafficking. 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; and 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.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General. The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
In Los Angeles, the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE), the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department, along with several community groups, comprise the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, whose mission is to improve tactics for identifying and rescuing trafficking victims, provide assistance to victims and prosecute those responsible for human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Task Force in Los Angeles has established a toll-free hotline – (800) 655-4095 – which victims and individuals with information about victims are encouraged to call. Information may be provided anonymously and will be kept confidential.
“The lengthy sentences in this case are indicative of the serious nature of the defendants' criminal offenses against innocent women and children,” said Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “Through task forces such as the one in Los Angeles, the FBI is addressing, and gradually bringing awareness, to the growing human trafficking problem in the United States.”
Release No. 09-103
Return to the 2009 Press Release Index