Northern California couple sentenced to prison for forcing Guatemalan immigrants into labor


A Shasta Lake couple were sentenced to federal prison Monday after physically and psychologically abusing Guatemalan immigrants and forcing them into hard labor at their restaurant and cleaning service, prosecutors said.

Nery A. Martinez Vasquez, and Maura N. Martinez, both 54, were sentenced to 6½ years in prison and 3 years in prison, respectively, after pleading guilty to conspiring to force a mother and her two daughters into labor.

The couple were also ordered to pay fines of $25,000 and $300,000 in restitution to seven victims, including the family and others the couple had abused and forced into labor. The prison sentences and indictments stem from offenses against the mother and her two daughters, ages 8 and 15.


The Martinezes were indicted in 2019 on charges of forced labor, conspiracy to commit forced labor, harboring an alien for financial gain and conspiracy to commit alien harboring.

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“These defendants used the promise of a better life to lure a mother and her children to travel to the United States, only to betray their familial relationship and exploit the victims’ precarious situation to cruelly oppress and degrade them, and to turn a profit off their backs,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Kristen Clarke said in a U.S. Department of Justice release.

The charges stem from incidents that occurred between 2016 and 2018, when the couple owned and operated the restaurant and janitorial service in Shasta Lake.

“In August 2016, the defendants convinced the victims, a Guatemalan relative and her two minor daughters, ages 15 and 8, to come to the United States by falsely promising the victims a better life and arranging for them to enter the United States and overstay their temporary visitor visas,” federal prosecutors said.

The couple imposed debts on the victims that they would then have to work off by laboring in the restaurant or cleaning service seven days a week with minimal or no pay, officials said.

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Court records indicated that the woman and older daughter worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.


The two daughters were kept out of school, and the Martinezes told them immigration authorities would find and arrest them if they attended, prosecutors said.

“Nery Martinez Vasquez beat the children with a stick that had the children’s name and nickname written on it along with the phrase ‘what goes up, must come down,’” prosecutors said, and the family was kept in a “dilapidated and unheated trailer with no running water.”

The family was threatened with deportation and arrest when the mother spoke up about their treatment and expressed a desire to return home, according to prosecutors.

“We hope today’s sentencing will offer the victims confidence as they continue to reclaim their lives,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the Sacramento field division said in the release.