The New York Times
July 22, 2005

10 Are Charged With Smuggling of Immigrants


NEWARK, July 21 - A group of girls and women from Honduras were kept in crowded apartments and forced to dance at bars and drink with male customers to pay back thousands of dollars to the people who smuggled them into the United States, the United States attorney for New Jersey charged on Thursday.

At least 10 females, two as young as 14, were made to work as virtual slaves and were beaten and threatened with deportation if they tried to escape, according to a federal indictment filed on Thursday that charged eight women and two men with taking part in a smuggling ring reaching from Hudson County to Honduras.

Some of the women and girls were raped while traveling here, according to the indictment. At least three who became pregnant were forced to take drugs that would cause an abortion, because the smugglers believed they would not be able to earn as much money if they were pregnant.

"This was inhumane and sadistic treatment of young women who were kept as virtual slaves," said Christopher J. Christie, the federal prosecutor. "These are among the most vile crimes I have seen in my time as U.S. attorney."

The 10 people, several of whom were related, were accused of bringing the women into the country and then forcing them to work up to seven nights a week at three bars in Union City and Guttenberg, to pay back debts as high as $20,000.

One 21-year-old who was far along in a pregnancy was forced to take abortion-inducing drugs, and gave birth to a daughter the next day, but the baby died within hours, according to the indictment. A 14-year-old was beaten twice, once with a belt. Some of the defendants also threatened to hurt the workers' families back in Honduras if they did not pay back their smuggling debts, according to the indictment.

Charges against the defendants included conspiracy to commit forced labor offenses, alien smuggling and harboring illegal aliens, Mr. Christie said. The offenses took place from May 2003 to January 2005.

Prosecutors said recruiters for the ring worked in villages near Olanchito, Honduras, finding attractive women, mostly in their teens and early 20's, and promising them legitimate jobs as waitresses in the United States. The women left Honduras of their own volition, Mr. Christie said, and passed through Houston.

"They were kept in conditions where they were intimidated and controlled, and they were told not to trust law enforcement," said Deborah J. Gannett, an assistant United States attorney. The women and girls are in an undisclosed location, where they are receiving counseling, education and other social services, Mr. Christie said. They and 20 other women arrested in a January immigration raid at two apartments have been qualified for special visas that will allow them to stay in this country, become naturalized citizens and invite their families to join them as well, Mr. Christie said.

According to the indictment, Luisa Medrano, 50, of Cliffside Park, was the ringleader; she owned and operated three bars and three apartments where the women lived. She is a naturalized United States citizen who is from El Salvador.

John J. Fahy, who is representing Ms. Medrano, denied the charges in an interview.

Also charged were seven Honduran natives, including three sisters: Noris Elvira Rosales Martinez, 29, and Ana Luz Rosales Martinez, 37, both of Union City and being held in the United States, and Nancy Rosales Martinez, 34, of Olanchito, who is in custody in Honduras; the mother of the three sisters, Zenia Zunilda Martinez, 56, and her sister, Lourdes Rosales Martinez, 33, both of Tejeras, who are in custody in Honduras; and Jose Arnaldo Isaula-Meza, 23, of Sonaguera, Honduras, and his sister, Elsa Consuelo Isaula-Meza, 44, of Houston, who are still being sought. Jose Magana, 40, of El Salvador and Union City, and Rosalba Ortiz, 34, of the Dominican Republic and Union City were charged and are in custody in the United States.

Mr. Isaula-Meza was named the lead "coyote." Prosecutors said he took the women to the United States-Mexican border and raped some of them, including a 14-year-old.

If convicted, the defendants face fines of $250,000 and 5 to 20 years in prison. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of Ms. Medrano's clubs and apartment buildings.