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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Fugitive on ICE "Most Wanted" list captured in Los Angeles

Arrest ends two-year hunt for suspect linked to Guatemalan human trafficking ring

LOS ANGELES - A 28-year-old Guatemalan woman wanted for her alleged role in a sex trafficking ring that smuggled young Central American women into the United States and forced them to work as prostitutes was arrested here this afternoon by agents with U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI.

Maribel Rodriguez Vasquez, one of the fugitives featured on ICE's "Most Wanted" list, will make her initial appearance in federal court tomorrow morning to face federal charges. Her capture yesterday capped a nearly two-year search during which her case was featured by "America's Most Wanted."

In December 2006, an arrest warrant was issued for Vasquez after she was charged with knowingly and intentionally concealing, harboring, and shielding illegal aliens for financial gain; importation into and harboring of aliens in the United States for purposes of prostitution; and aiding and abetting.

Vasquez is one of nine defendants charged in connection with the sex trafficking ring, which allegedly smuggled women, some as young as 13, from Guatemala into the United States. The victims were recruited with false promises of high-paying jobs in restaurants and retail stores. Once they arrived in the United States, the ring's victims were allegedly held without their consent and forced to engage in prostitution.

According to the case indictment, the victims allegedly endured frequent threats of violence to themselves and to their families in Guatemala, as well as physical abuse. To further coerce the women to work as prostitutes, the defendants allegedly brought them to "witch doctors," who told the young females that curses would be placed on them and their families if they ran away. In one incident detailed in the indictment, three of the defendants repeatedly kicked and hit one of the victims to punish her for trying to escape.

This case is being worked jointly by members of the Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes ICE, the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department and the United States Attorney's Office.

The investigation into the sex trafficking ring began after a source came forward and contacted authorities in October 2006.