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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Mexican couple arrested for forcing a young Mexican woman into prostitution

NEW YORK - A Mexican couple has been arrested by special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on sex trafficking charges in an investigation that also involved the Drug Enforcement Administration and New York City Police Department.

Domingo Salazar, 33 and his wife, Norma Mendez, 32, are accused of trafficking a young woman from Mexico and forcing her into prostitution. The couple was arrested on Nov. 27.

As specified in the criminal complaint, in February 2007, Salazar began a romantic relationship with the victim in Mexico. Between April 2007 and November 2009, the defendants, who are Mexican nationals, used physical violence and intimidation to force the young Mexican woman to work as a prostitute in the United States.

"Criminal organizations engaged in sex trafficking of women should know that ICE will work tirelessly with our partners to dismantle their ruthless operations," said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton. "As alleged in the complaint, these traffickers have shown their utter disregard for human life, and ICE is committed to identifying victims and arresting the sex traffickers who prey on them."

In April 2007, after the victim became pregnant with Salazar's child, Salazar paid a smuggler to transport himself and the victim across the U.S.-Mexico border. Salazar then arranged their travel to New York.

The complaint alleges that shortly after arriving in New York, Salazar and the victim began living with Mendez. The complaint also alleges that Salazar told the victim that Mendez was his sister, when in fact she was his wife. In December 2007, about a month after the victim gave birth to her child, Salazar told the victim she would have to work as a prostitute to earn money to support their child and to repay their smuggling debt. The victim was not permitted to leave the apartment except to work as a prostitute; she was required to engage in sex acts with 8 to 15 clients in a single shift, and 20 to 25 clients during a double shift. The victim was transported to locations to work by a driver; and half the money she earned was taken by the driver and the other half by Salazar.

Beginning in late December 2007 and continuing until the defendants' arrests, Salazar and Mendez allegedly abused the victim for failing to make more money, for not paying Mendez sufficient respect, and for having a baby.

On or about Jan. 12, 2008, the victim's 3-month-old child became limp and unresponsive. Salazar allegedly refused to take the baby to a hospital, explaining to the victim that authorities would believe the mother had beaten the baby. The baby died that day. Salazar allegedly ordered the victim to assist him in concealing the baby's remains in a cement block, which was thereafter placed in a plastic bin that was still inside Salazar's apartment in Brooklyn.

As detailed in the complaint, the abuse included cutting the victim with a knife, beating her with a brick and board, punching her, and breaking her finger and nose. At the time of the defendants' arrests, the victim still bore the marks of the abuse; her broken nose remained untreated and her eye was nearly swollen shut.

"The trafficking of human beings and sex slavery are unconscionable in this day and age and will not be tolerated," said Benton J. Campbell, United States Attorney. "I am grateful for the Department of the Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York Police Department, and the Kings County District Attorney's Office for their assistance in this investigation."

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Warren and Pamela Chen.

Anyone who knows or suspects that someone is being forced to work against his or her will should contact the ICE tip line anonymously at 866-DHS-ICE. You can also view or download the video public service announcement on trafficking at www.ice.gov.