Four Arrested after Several Victims Escape, Tell of Threats and Beatings
LAWFUEL – Legal News, Legal Jobs – Four female members of a Guatemalan family have been arrested on federal charges related to their operation of a prostitution ring that used young women who were recruited in Guatemala and lured to the United States with promises of jobs in restaurants and retail stores. Once the women were smuggled into the United States and reached Los Angeles, they were forced to work as prostitutes to pay smuggling fees, which often escalated to as much as $20,000.
The four arrested yesterday, and a fifth relative who is a fugitive, allegedly threatened and, in some cases, physically assaulted several of the women who failed to cooperate or attempted to escape.
The defendants were arrested following a three-month investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Labor and the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition to the arrests, the investigators executed search warrants at six Los Angeles apartments and residences linked to the scheme. There, authorities encountered 10 other women who are believed to have worked as prostitutes for the defendants. Those women are being interviewed to determine more about the circumstances surrounding their arrival in this country and their treatment once they reached Los Angeles.
The five defendants implicated in the scheme are charged in a criminal complaint with two counts – importing and harboring illegal aliens and harboring illegal aliens for the purposes of prostitution. The defendants arrested yesterday are all Los Angeles residents. They are:
Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela, 36;
Jeanette Vasquez Valenzuela, a.k.a. Miriam, 25, who is Gladys’ sister;
Albertina Vasquez Valenzuela, a.k.a. Christina, 48; who is a third sister, and
Maria Vicente de Los Angeles, also known as Angela, 27, who is Albertina’s daughter.
Gladys, Maria and Jeanette made their initial court appearances yesterday afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. They were all ordered held without bond. Albertina is scheduled to make her first court appearance this afternoon.
The fifth defendant – Maribel Vasquez Valenzuela, age unknown, who is the niece of the three sisters – is being sought by authorities.
“The defendants in this case are charged with luring vulnerable, desperate women with false promises and, for profit, inflicted severe mental and physical abuse on them by forcing them into prostitution and slavery,” said J. Stephen Tidwell, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The multi-agency probe began after two victims escaped with the help of a client and ultimately contacted authorities. Subsequently, two other victims were liberated by law enforcement authorities in November.
According to an affidavit filed in the case, the victims were approached in Guatemala, where they were told jobs in restaurants and clothing stores awaited them in the United States. After being smuggled across the United States-Mexico border and driven to Los Angeles, the women were turned over to the defendants, who informed them that their “job” would be working as prostitutes. When the women protested, they were told they had no choice. The affidavit describes how the victims endured frequent threats of violence, as well as physical abuse, while working seven days a week. In one incident detailed in the affidavit, four of the defendants repeatedly kicked and hit one of the victims following an unsuccessful escape attempt. After the first two women fled, Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela allegedly made repeated calls to one of the women’s cell phones threatening to kill her and her family.
“These young women were enticed into coming to this country by promises of the American dream, only to arrive and discover that what awaited was a nightmare,” said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. “This scheme shows yet again the level of calculation and cruelty exhibited by criminal organizations that treat human beings as nothing more than a commodity to be exploited for profit.”
The investigation into the alien smuggling ring was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Labor and the Los Angeles Police Department, all of which are participants in the Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Caroline C. Wittcoff