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3 Mexican nationals who harbored teen and forced her to work to pay off smuggling debts sentenced to prison

14 Mar

SEATTLE – Three Mexican nationals from northwestern Washington were sentenced to multiyear prison terms in federal court Wednesday for violating immigration laws by harboring a teenager and forcing her to work to pay off her smuggling fees.

Miguel Arcef-Flores, 42, received a 40-month prison term; his brother-in-law, Angel Sandoval Mondragon, 37, was sentenced to 36 months in prison; and Arcef-Flores’ wife, Marabella Sandoval Mondragon, 38, was sentenced to 34 months in prison. All of the defendants are in the U.S. illegally and each will likely face deportation upon completion of their prison terms.

The charges resulted from an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Seattle, Aberdeen and Federal Way police departments. The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division also provided substantial assistance. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kate Crisham and Bruce Miyake.

In imposing the sentences, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart stated that the “extreme and abusive conduct of the defendants” took the case “well outside the heartland of the typical alien smuggling case.”

According to court records, in December 2004 Angel Sandoval Mondragon, who had recently been repatriated to Mexico, began recruiting his then 14-year-old niece to travel with him when he attempted to return to the U.S. Angel Sandoval Mondragon and his family, including his sister, Marabella Sandoval Mondragon and her husband, Miguel Arcef-Flores, had been living illegally in the Aberdeen area. Angel Sandoval Mondragon promised the girl a better life with an education and a home with his family.

“The defendants promised the world, and then stole the childhood of a 14-year-old girl,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “They preyed on a vulnerable relative for their own selfish and depraved reasons. Victims should know that they can safely come forward and report human trafficking crimes and all of us in law enforcement will work to ensure the perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice.”

In early 2005, Angel Sandoval Mondragon smuggled the teen into the U.S. with the help of a “coyote.”  The defendants picked the teen up and transported her to Aberdeen, where the three defendants shared a home with their five children and another teenage niece who had also been smuggled into the United States. The young girl was then informed that she would not be enrolling in school, but working in order to pay off her smuggling debts.

Angel Sandoval Mondragon obtained false documents for the teen and assisted in her in obtaining low wage temporary jobs at local companies in the Seattle area, including Plush Pippin and Seattle Gourmet Food. In return, the teen was forced to give all the money she earned to the defendants to pay for rent, food and household expenses. The victim and her cousin were sexually molested, threatened with deportation if they told anyone about their situation and denied food and medical care.
“No one should be forced to live in a world of isolation, servitude and terror as this young victim was, particularly in a country that prides itself on its freedoms,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “It’s a sad reflection on human greed and heartlessness that people believe they can engage in this kind of egregious exploitation with impunity. This sentence should send a message to those who traffic in human beings – that HSI and its federal law enforcement partners are committed to protecting those who cannot protect themselves.”

In approximately May 2006, the victim’s employment with the temporary staffing agency was terminated because she was physically unable to work, so the defendants sent the victim and her teenage cousin back to Mexico. The defendants continued to tell the victim that she owed them money for the costs incurred in bringing her to, and harboring her in the United States.

In 2009, Marabella Sandoval Mondragon recruited her two younger brothers – both of whom were juveniles – to travel from Mexico to live with her and Arcef-Flores in the Seattle area. After the juveniles arrived they were told they had incurred smuggling debts and had to repay her. Marbella Sandoval Mondragon took one of the juvenile brother’s identification documents, telling him that he would not get the documents back until he had paid his debt in full.

The three defendants were arrested following their indictment in December 2015 and have remained in custody since that time.