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March 2, 2023McAllen, TX, United StatesLabor Exploitation

HSI McAllen investigation results in South Texas couple admitting to benefiting from forced labor

MCALLEN, Texas — Eduardo Javier Gomez, 32, and Margarita Alvarez, 40, a former couple from Edinburg, pleaded guilty in federal court to benefiting from forced labor following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

According to court documents, from June 24, 2021, until July 8, 2021, Gomez and Alvarez benefited from their victim’s free labor which allowed the couple to hold gainful employment. Gomez also earned money from a fireworks stand for which the victim provided free labor.

HSI special agents discovered that the victim was illegally smuggled to the Rio Grande Valley and that Gomez held her against her will. Gomez requested that the victim’s family members pay him additional money to move her farther north. The victim’s family was unable to pay, so Gomez and Alvarez took her phone and forced her to work as a nanny and housekeeper in the home the couple shared.

Gomez also forced the victim to work in fireworks stand he managed. The victim was never paid.

Authorities located and rescued the victim two days after learning of her existence.

“Labor traffickers care about only one thing — money,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. “Those subjected to domestic servitude are robbed of their dignity and freedom. Thankfully, this victim was rescued quickly thanks to the efforts of law enforcement. Now, this couple will pay the price for their despicable crimes and we can begin to bring some closure to the victim.”

“All employees and workers should feel secure in reporting unlawful labor practices such as substandard wages, unsafe working conditions and other forms of worker exploitation,” said HSI Harlingen acting Deputy Special Agent in Charge Mark Lippa. “By focusing on exploitative employers, HSI is protecting the American labor market, the conditions of our country’s workplaces and the dignity of the individual workers.”

U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa set sentencing for May 9. At that time, the former couple faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Gomez will remain in custody pending sentencing. Alvarez was permitted to remain free on bond.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eliza Carmen Rodriguez, Sherri Zack and Kim Leo of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.