A California couple pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit forced labor. According to court documents, Nery A. Martinez Vasquez, 53, and his wife Maura N. Martinez, 53, both of Shasta Lake, are naturalized United States citizens, originally from Guatemala. They owned and operated Latino’s, a restaurant, and Redding Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Services, a cleaning company that serviced various businesses, including multiple car dealerships, in the Shasta Lake area.
In their plea agreement filed in federal court, the defendants admitted that if the matter proceeded to trial, the government would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they convinced a Guatemalan relative and her two minor daughters to come to the United States in August 2016 by falsely promising them a better life. The defendants arranged for the victims to enter the United States using temporary visitor visas and then compelled them to overstay their visas and work long hours at Latino’s restaurant and Redding Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Services for minimal to no pay between September 2016 and February 2018. The defendants conspired with one another to manufacture an inflated debt that they told the victims they owed and instructed them that they could not leave until they repaid this fictious debt. The defendants also abused the legal system by threatening to call the authorities on the victims and have them arrested for overstaying their visas if they did not comply with their requests. Similarly, the defendants forbid the minor children from attending school because they claimed that immigration authorities were looking to arrest and deport non-citizen children. Instead of attending school, the children worked for the defendants’ businesses. The defendants housed the victims in a dilapidated, unheated trailer with no running water, and degraded and humiliated them in front of others. Finally, the defendants used force and threats of force to intimidate the victims, with Nery Martinez Vasquez even going as far as hitting the minor victims with a stick when angry.
“These defendants used the promise of America to lure the victim and her children to the United States in search of a better life, only to turn around and use that hope to exploit their dreams under cruel conditions,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “There is no place for such cruel conduct in our society, and the Department of Justice remains committed to eradicating human trafficking.”
“These defendants exploited vulnerable victims, forcing them to work in their businesses, failing to pay wages, and depriving them of basic human rights,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office continues its commitment to protect and defend vulnerable members of our society from human trafficking.”
“This case highlights how the dream of coming to the United States to begin a new, promising life can become a nightmare,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “The family worked in public view yet were imprisoned by fear and the lies they had been told by their exploiters. No human being — let alone a family — should be forced to work and live as these victims did. The FBI is committed to identifying and investigating human trafficking. We seek justice for victims, regardless of immigration status. We ask the public to report suspected human trafficking and encourage victims to come forward to escape the cycle of exploitation they may feel trapped within."
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb on Nov. 8. The defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The sentence will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. As part of the defendants’ plea, they have agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution to the victims.
This case is the product of an investigation by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine T. Lydon and Tanya B. Syed and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Avner Shapiro are prosecuting the case.