News and Press Releases

PALM BEACH COUNTY WOMAN SENTENCED ON CHARGES OF FORCED LABOR AND ALIEN SMUGGLING

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2010

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations, Miami Field Office, Ric L. Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and Delsa Bush, Chief, West Palm Beach Police Department, announced that Veronica Martinez, of Palm Beach County, was sentenced today on charges of forced labor and alien smuggling. U.S. District Court Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks sentenced Martinez to 87 months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release.

This investigation began in March 2010 when the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received an anonymous call about suspicious activity taking place at a trailer home and bar in West Palm Beach. The caller reported that two females were brought to the United States by an alien smuggler and forced to work at a bar to pay off their smuggling debts.

FBI agents responded to the trailer home and located two female Honduran nationals. The women reported that Martinez arranged for them to be smuggled into the United States through Mexico in the Spring and Summer of 2009. Martinez initially told the women that it would cost about $6,500 for the smuggling venture. Martinez also told the women that upon their arrival in the United States, they would clean houses and provide daycare services to repay their smuggling debt.

When the women arrived in the United States, Martinez forced the women to work at a local bar to repay their debt. The women were instructed to talk, dance and drink with the male customers in exchange for money. On several occasions, the male customers paid the victims to touch them. The victims allowed the customers to touch them in order to repay the monies that Martinez demanded. The victims worked at the bar four nights per week for eight to eleven hours per night. After every shift, the victims gave Martinez all the money they earned to repay their smuggling debt and their daily living expenses. To compel their compliance, Martinez threatened to get the money from the victims’ mother if they did not pay. Approximately one week after the forced labor began, Martinez told the victims, without explanation, that their smuggling debt increased to $12,000.

On July 23, 2010, Martinez pled guilty to two counts of alien smuggling, in violation of Title 8 U.S.C. 1324(a)(1)(A)(i), and two count of forced labor, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. 1589(a)(2). She admitted that she illegally smuggled the victims into the United States, and forced them to work at a bar to pay off their smuggling debts.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and the West Palm Beach Police Department. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Dispoto and Corey Steinberg.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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