WASHINGTON - Pablo Bonifacio pleaded guilty today in federal court in Los Angeles, to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and transporting illegal aliens in the pending case of United States v. Vasquez-Valenzuela, announced Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division and Thomas P. O’Brien, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. The remaining eight defendants are scheduled for trial on Sept. 2, 2008, in Los Angeles.
According to the terms of the plea agreement, Bonifacio faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Bonifacio is scheduled to be sentenced in Los Angeles on July 28, 2008.
During the plea today, Bonifacio admitted to conspiring with multiple co-defendants and others in a scheme to bring young Guatemalan women and girls into the United States illegally for purposes of prostitution, and to hold and harbor them in the Los Angeles area for the same purposes. As he admitted during the plea hearing today, Bonifacio was paid for his role in transporting young females to different locations within the Los Angeles area to engage in prostitution. In addition, the defendant acknowledged that co-defendants arranged for young females to be recruited from Guatemala–often on the promise of legitimate jobs–and were then smuggled into the United States illegally for prostitution. The young women and girls were then forced to engage in prostitution to repay their smuggling fees.
“The defendant was a willing participant in a conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of female victims from Central America,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Becker. “The Department of Justice will continue to find and prosecute anyone who works to aid human trafficking schemes.”
“Mr. Bonifacio has admitted his role in a scheme that lured young girls into the United States with promises of a better life,” said U.S. Attorney O’Brien. “But the American dream turned into a nightmare when those children were forced to work as prostitutes.”
The prosecution of human trafficking offenses is a top priority of the Justice Department. In the last seven fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has increased by nearly seven-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court as compared to the previous seven fiscal years. In fiscal year 2007, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cheryl Murphy and Sarah Heidel of the Central District of California, and Special Litigation Counsel Andrew J. Kline from the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The case is being investigated by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Labor.