Tag Archive: California

Los Angeles Paralegal Pleads Guilty To Role In Visa Fraud

July 3, 2022

A Los Angeles paralegal pleaded guilty Monday, June 6, to  participating in a scheme to violate U.S. immigration laws by preparing and filing bogus documents that sought permanent residency and citizenship for members of a Philippines-based church.

Maria De Leon, 73, a resident of Koreatown and the owner of a legal document service, entered her plea to a single conspiracy charge, which carries a sentence of up to five years behind bars, according to the Department of Justice.

Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 12.

The defendant admitted her part in the scheme with administrators of the church, which is known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name, according to her plea agreement.

De Leon acknowledged that for eight years she helped commit marriage and visa fraud with the leaders of the church, which has a facility in Van Nuys.

De Leon is one of nine defendants charged in November in a 42-count indictment that alleges a labor-trafficking scheme that used fraudulently obtained visas to bring church members to the United States, where they were forced to solicit donations for a bogus charity.

Read the full story on Los Angeles Daily News.

California Couple Pleads Guilty In Forced Labor Case Involving Family From Guatemala

September 13, 2021

The owners of a restaurant and janitorial company in Shasta Lake took a plea deal Monday in a case that charged them with luring a family from Guatemala to serve as forced laborers and earlier kidnapping a 13-year-old girl from her Las Vegas, Nevada, home.

Nery A. Martinez Vasquez and his wife, Maura N. Martinez, both 53, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit forced labor and could face a prison term of up to 20 years and fines of $250,000. The couple also agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution, and Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb set sentencing for Nov. 8.

The couple originally was charged in a June 2019 indictment in federal court in Sacramento with conspiracy to commit forced labor and other counts. Prosecutors alleged they enticed a relative in Guatemala to bring her two minor daughters to the United States in 2016 with promises of providing them a better life and educational opportunities.

Instead, the couple forced the three — who are not identified by name — to work through February 2018 and threatened them with arrest if they went outside unaccompanied or tried to attend school, court documents say.

“The defendants unlawfully employed Person One and her older daughter, Person Two, at their restaurant and cleaning service and required them to work upwards of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for meager pay, far below minimum wage,” court documents say. “The defendants further required Person Three, Person One’s younger daughter, to work several hours a day, seven days a week, at the restaurant for no pay.”

Read the full story by Sam Stanton on The Sacramento Bee.

California, Other States Eye Reduced Penalties for Prostitution to Fight Sex Trafficking

August 8, 2021

Gov. Janet Mills of Maine recently faced a dilemma — whether she should sign a bill reducing penalties for those who sell sex. Maine would have been the first state to fully decriminalize prostitution, as discussions intensify across the country about the potential for fighting human trafficking by decriminalizing prostitution and soliciting.

In San Diego, anti-trafficking advocates and law enforcement sources are aware of the efforts to legalize prostitution. It’s being advocated for sex workers who want the same rights as any worker in the country.

California is also facing another showdown of sorts: Senate Bill 357, which would no longer punish those found to have been “loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Maine, like San Diego, sits at the intersection of human trafficking across state and international borders. That state’s bill had elements that anti-trafficking advocates support: reduced penalties for people who have been sold into the sex trade along with support in the form of social services and opportunities.

It would have also increased punishment for pimps and traffickers who coerce often vulnerable people into the underground network.

Gov. Mills, however, vetoed the legislation after a local organization opposed it, pointing out that pimps could take advantage of the new system.

Read the full story by JW August on Times of San Diego

Supreme Court Decision Could Mean Increase In Labor Trafficking Of Farmworkers

July 29, 2021

In June of 2018, two Monterey County site inspectors visited a Salinas cannabis farm, where they encountered a small group of farmworkers who they suspected had been trafficked.

The farmworkers, who spoke no English, took off running when Monterey County Resource Management Agency officials approached them. They couldn’t go far, though — the cultivation site was fenced in. The farmworkers seemed terrified, the county’s prosecuting attorney later said.

Their behavior was unusual enough that inspectors called the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who sent deputies to investigate.

It soon became clear the dozen or so Hmong farmworkers, employed by labor contractor Levi Trimmigration, were living in substandard housing: metal shipping containers furnished only with camping equipment. They had no running water, no ventilation and slept on camping cots.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California is one of the most prominent sites of human trafficking in the U.S. In 2018, of the nearly 11,000 cases reported nationally, more than 1,600 came from California. About 150 of those cases were reports of labor trafficking.

Read the full story by Kate Cimini on Cal Matters.

450 Held, Dozens Rescued In California Human Trafficking Crackdown

March 14, 2021

LOS ANGELES — Authorities say a statewide operation to fight human trafficking in California has ended with 450 arrests and the rescue of dozens of victims, including children.

“Operation Reclaim and Rebuild” involved 100 federal, state and local law enforcement agents conducting a week-long effort that ended on Monday.

At a Los Angeles news conference Thursday, authorities say they rescued 39 victims statewide, including 13 children. One of them was a 15-year-old girl who had been reported missing from Nevada. Authorities say she was found after San Luis Obispo County investigators arranged a meeting through an online sex ad. Her alleged trafficker was captured.

“The goal of the operation was simply to rescue and recover victims of human trafficking and to arrest their traffickers or individuals who have exploited them,” LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher said at Thursday’s press conference.

Read the full story by the Associated Press on ABC 10.

California Sex-trafficking Operation Arrests 64, Frees 2 Women

March 11, 2021

A human-trafficking sting that was focused on online prostitution led to the arrests of 64 people, California authorities announced this week.

The Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force arrested 61 men and one female for solicitation of prostitution and two other men on other prostitution and solicitation charges January 24-28, authorities said in a statement released Tuesday.

Task force officials said investigators set up stings at sites known for sex trafficking and targeted businesses that had previously been reported for illegal sexual activity.

In addition to the arrests, task force officers found two women believed to be victims of sex trafficking who were being forced to engage in prostitution against their will.

The arrests were part of an annual effort by local, state and federal authorities to combat sexual slavery and human trafficking in California, according to the statement.

Last year, 518 people were arrested, while 87 victims, including 11 children, were recovered during the effort, it said.

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem. The U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have reported that between 25 million and 40 million people are trafficked around the globe each year.

Read the full story on VOA News.

Investigation finds 33 missing children in Southern California, FBI says

February 28, 2021

A multiagency investigation recently found 33 missing children in Southern California, including eight who had been sexually exploited, the FBI said in a news release Friday.

Operation “Lost Angels” began Jan. 11 amid Human Trafficking Awareness Month and involved more than two dozen agencies in an effort to identify and find missing children, the FBI said.

Officials said two of the children were found multiple times at known locations for commercial sex trafficking and explained endangered children often return to such situations for various reasons as a part of a “harmful cycle” of abuse.

Several other children had been sexually exploited in the past and were considered “vulnerable missing children” before officials located them, the FBI said.

Officials arrested one person on state human trafficking charges. The agencies also opened multiple investigations, the FBI said. Some of the “minor victims” were arrested for probation violations, robbery or other misdemeanors, and one was a victim of a noncustodial parental kidnapping, the FBI said.

A spokesperson from the Los Angeles bureau of the FBI did not immediately provide further details about the children, such as their ages. It was not immediately clear if the cases were linked in any way.

The FBI said its caseload of crimes related to sex and labor trafficking has “increased significantly” in the past several years. The FBI began collecting human trafficking data in 2013. Since then, the number of states participating in data collection has increased, along with the number of reported incidents.

Read the full story by Grace Hauk on Yahoo! News.

Couple Promised Jobs To Lure Workers. They Beat Them And Didn’t Pay, Prosecutors Say

March 28, 2019

A former Stockton couple convicted in a human trafficking case faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for physically abusing, exploiting and threatening workers they hired from India and Nepal under false pretenses, authorities announced Monday.

After an 11-day trial in federal court, a jury on Thursday convicted Satish Kartan, 45, and his wife, Sharmistha Barai, 40, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.

The married couple was found guilty of conspiracy to obtain forced labor and two counts of obtaining forced labor. Kartan also was found guilty of fraud in foreign labor contracting.

“These defendants exploited one victim after another, using them to labor in their home, failing to pay wages and depriving them of basic human rights,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in the release.

From February 2014 through October 2016, Kartan and Barai hired people from overseas to do domestic work in their Stockton home.

Federal prosecutors said the couple made false claims about wages and work duties in advertisements seeking workers online and in India-based newspapers.

After the workers arrived in Stockton, Kartan and Barai forced them to work 18 hours a day while depriving them of sleep and food, according to the prosecutors. They said few of the workers were paid a wage.

The defendants kept the workers from leaving their jobs “by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control and disempowerment,” according to the release. Several workers also were threatened that attempts to leave their jobs would be reported to police or immigration officials.

Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI Field Office, said Kartan and Barai did more than simply fail to pay victims for their work.

To read the full story by Rosalio Ahumada on Merced Sun-Star: Click Here