Saturday, December 23, 2006

California: 4 Accused of Smuggling Women for Prostitution

LOS ANGELES, CA -- Four women from Guatemala have been arrested as part of a scheme in which young women were lured into the U.S. with promises of good jobs and forced to become prostitutes in Los Angeles.

The women were arrested Wednesday when investigators from the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Labor and the LAPD served search warrants at six Los Angeles homes and apartments linked to the alleged prostitution ring.

Charged with importing and harboring undocumented immigrants as well as harboring them for prostitution were Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela, 36; her sisters, Jeanette, 25, and Albertina, 48; and Albertina's daughter, Maria Vicente de los Angeles, 27.

Another relative, Maribel Vasquez Valenzuela, is being sought by authorities.

The investigation began three months ago when two alleged victims of the ring escaped with the help of a male customer and contacted authorities, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Two other victims were rescued by investigators last month. Ten women at the locations raided Wednesday were also believed to have been working as prostitutes and were being interviewed by authorities to determine if they also were victims.

In a sworn affidavit used for the arrests and searches, FBI Agent Tricia Whitehill provided a harrowing account of how the young women were duped into coming to the U.S., forced into prostitution and held against their will, often beaten when they complained.

One victim, identified only by the initials I.C., told the agent she was first approached in Guatemala about coming to the U.S. by a man named "Chepe." According to the affidavit, he told the woman he had children in the U.S. who needed help with their restaurant business and that she could make plenty of money that she could send back to her daughter in Guatemala.

Agreeing to the offer, I.C. traveled for 20 days by foot and bus, crossing the Mexican border into Texas in February. There, she met a man and woman who drove her from Houston to Los Angeles.

Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela and her niece, Maribel, met the van and paid the smugglers $1,600 for I.C. and another woman, according to the affidavit.

Returning to Vasquez Valenzuela's apartment, I.C. said, she was told by the woman that she owed $10,000 for the trip and would have to work as a prostitute if she did not have the money.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT LATimes.com

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