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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Hillsborough County man arrested by ICE for sex trafficking of minor

TAMPA, Fla. - Mario Alberto Laguna-Guerrero, 25, of Hillsborough County, was arrested yesterday on a criminal complaint for the sex trafficking of a minor, following an investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Human Trafficking Task Force (CAHTTF).

If convicted as charged, Laguna-Guerrero faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison. Laguna-Guerrero made his initial appearance in federal court at 4 p.m. yesterday before Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo, who ordered him to remain in custody with no bond.

"ICE special agents in Tampa work closely with our local law enforcement partners and nongovernmental organizations to identify, rescue and provide assistance for human trafficking victims," said Sue McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa. "ICE will continue to combat this modern day form of slavery in its efforts to stop those who would exploit human beings for their own financial gain."

According to the complaint, in 2008 in Hillsborough County, Laguna-Guerrero caused a then-16 year-old girl, who is developmentally challenged, to perform commercial sex acts.

He transported her to various locations, primarily to migrant farm worker camps in eastern Hillsborough County, and he took money from individuals who paid to have sex with her. Laguna-Guerrero also asked the victim to ask her friends to be prostitutes for him.

"This girl was rescued from a nightmare which could only have gotten worse," said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee. "The teamwork among law enforcement agencies cannot be underestimated when it comes to protecting children and the innocent. There is one less predator on the streets, and one more reason that this task force is so valuable."

This investigation was initiated by HCSO, whose deputy enlisted the assistance of ICE agents in Tampa and the CAHTTF, in which the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa plays a major role. CAHTTF began a full-scale, multi-agency investigation leading to the arrest.

U.S. Attorney Al Britton praised the work of the agencies involved, stating, "This type of terrible crime is very unsettling, but it is rewarding to know an arrest was made because of the commitment and partnership of numerous Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies and their dedicated investigators."

Lt. George Koder, commander of the CAHTTF, said, "This case really exemplifies teamwork and multi-jurisdictional communication and coordination from local, to state, to federal participation. The goals of the task force are to rescue and restore the victims, to prosecute the traffickers, and to educate the public about human trafficking by collaborating with governmental and nongovernmental agencies. Today, those efforts worked seamlessly, and it is encouraging to see so many agencies working so hard collectively to help the victims of modern slavery."

CAHTTF is a law enforcement and social services coalition to fight human trafficking in the Tampa Bay Area. In addition to ICE, CAHTTF consists of agents and officers from the FBI, the Clearwater Police Department, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, among others. The CAHTTF conducts training for all newly funded Department of Justice (DOJ) sponsored Human Trafficking Task Forces as well as police departments nationwide.

Additionally, the CAHTTF works closely with non-governmental and social service organizations in its human trafficking efforts. These organizations routinely forward information regarding potential victims and trafficking networks to the Task Force for investigation. The Task Force works with the organizations to provide training to other law enforcement agencies and conduct outreach to other governmental agencies, such as foreign consulates, for the purpose of identifying potential victims that they may encounter at the local consulate offices.

Anyone who knows or suspects that someone is being trafficked, either through by being forced into prostitution or by being forced to work in a modern version of slavery, should contact the ICE tip line anonymously at 866-DHS-2-ICE.

This case will be prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorney Thomas N. Palermo.