Department of Justice Seal


THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 1998 (202) 616-2777

TDD (202) 514-1888



Attorney General Announces Worker Exploitation Task Force

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sixteen individuals who orchestrated an elaborate scheme to lure young female Mexican nationals to the United States by promising them legitimate employment, and instead forcing them into prostitution, were indicted today, the Justice Department announced.

The 52-count indictment, handed down in U.S. District Court in Ft. Pierce, Florida, charged six members of the Cadena family of Veracruz, Mexico and ten associates with violating federal civil rights, immigration, sexual exploitation and extortion statutes. According to the indictments, between the fall of 1996 and February of this year, the family operated an organization that recruited Mexican women to come to America. The women, some as young as 14, were smuggled into Texas, transported to Florida and South Carolina, and, instead of being given legitimate work as promised, were forced to become prostitutes to pay back their smuggling debt.

"Every person, rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen, has a right to be free," said Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee. "The allegations in today's indictments are shocking and reflect a cruel exploitation of women on a systemic basis."

Earlier today, Attorney General Janet Reno announced an inter-agency federal task force to combat the serious problem of modern-day slavery and worker exploitation in the United States.

"We must get these modern day slavery cases off the front pages of the newspapers and into the history books," said Reno.

The task force, co-chaired by Mr. Lee and the Solicitor of the Labor Department, will utilize the resources of the Civil Rights Division, the FBI, INS and the Department of Labor to create a coordinated effort to investigate and prosecute these so-called cases of indentured servitude.

Today's indictment alleged that the Cadena family and others operated an organization which used "recruiters" to interest young women into coming to the United States. The recruiters promised the women domestic, restaurant, landscaping and health care jobs. The organization paid professional smugglers to bring the women across the border in Texas and harbored them in safehouses until they could be transported to Florida and South Carolina.

Once transported, the women were told to perform acts of prostitution in order to pay off smuggling fees, and were subjected to violence and force if they refused to do so. Many worked six days a week, and none were permitted to return home. Most of those who attempted to escape were tracked down, brought back and subjected to physical and sexual assault.

The women worked as prostitutes in brothel houses in Orlando, Tampa, Avon Park, Ft. Myers, Haines City, Lake Worth, Ocoee, Okeechobee, and Zolfo Springs, Florida and Lake City and John's Island, South Carolina. The brothels were operated by "ticketeros" who collected the money earned by the prostitutes by selling tickets, which were actually condoms, to be exchanged for sexual encounters. These ticketeros also routinely threatened the women to ensure that they continued to work.

The women only retained a small fraction of their earnings while the rest went to their smuggling debt and other debts. Many women who became pregnant at the brothel were forced to have abortions.

"The defendants lured underage Mexican women with promises of opportunity and a better life," said U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Scott in Miami. "Instead, they received a one way ticket to a life of prostitution."

Over the past three years alone, the Justice Department has brought ten indentured servitude cases involving more than 150 victims.

If convicted, the 16 defendants face up to life in prison. Eight defendants are in custody. Eight others are at large.

Fourteen women are referenced in the indictment, three of whom are minors. The victims, who have been declared material witnesses by the court, have been released on bond and granted temporary legal status for one year while the case is pending. The Justice Department is working with social service providers in South Florida who are ensuring the victims are housed, fed and clothed and can obtain work.

This case was jointly investigated by the Border Patrol and the FBI, with the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office and the Lake Worth Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorneys office in the Southern District of Florida. It is the second major slavery case investigated by the Miami sector of the Border Patrol in the past two years.

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