LOS ANGELES (CN) – Four Guatemalan women were convicted Wednesday of an international sex trafficking scheme that used witchcraft and violence to prey on young impoverished women.
A jury found the four women and a Mexican man guilty of conspiracy, sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and importation of aliens for purposes of prostitution.
Women victimized by the ring were smuggled into the United States with false promises of legitimate jobs. Once they crossed the border, they were forced into prostitution and deprived of basic human rights, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The defendants threatened to beat and rape their victims and kill their loved ones in Guatemala if they did not cooperate. They also used witchcraft and witch doctors to intimidate their victims and prevent them from attempting to escape.
The defendants, most of them members of an extended family, collected tens of thousands of from the prostitution while the victims received virtually nothing.
Convicted were Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela; Mirna Jeanneth Vasquez Valenzuela aka Miriam, 27; Maria de los Angeles Vicente, aka Angela, 29; Maribel Rodriquez Vasquez, 29, all of Guatemala; and Gabriel Mendez, 34, of Mexico. Four more defendants already have pleaded guilty – two men and two women.
An FBI official called it the largest sex-trafficking investigation ever in Los Angeles.
The defendants face up to life in prison; four face a mandatory minimum of 15 years.