A California couple has been charged with forcing a Guatemalan woman and her two children to work in the couple’s Shasta Lake businesses, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Monday.
Nery Martinez Vasquez and Maura Martinez, who are both 50-year-old naturalized U.S. citizens, were indicted on charges of forced labor, conspiracy to commit forced labor, harboring an alien for financial gain and conspiracy to commit alien harboring, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, the Martinezes paid $5,139 to bring the immigrant woman and her two young daughters to the U.S. with temporary visitor visas and then forced them to stay and work for them after their visas expired.
The indictment states that woman and her daughters were subjected to physical, verbal and psychological abuse between September 2016 when they arrived at Shasta Lake and February 2018.
The Guatemalan family, unnamed in court records, was promised a better life in the U.S., with a livable wage and education for the young girls, who were born in 2001 and 2008, prosecutors said.
Instead, the three were made to live in a trailer in the backyard of the Martinez home with no heating, air conditioning or running water, the indictment states. Prosecutors said the family was told they could not get a cellphone and the girls could not go to school because immigration authorities would find them and deport them.
When the mother expressed a desire in January 2017 to return to Guatemala, the couple told her she owed them $12,000 — though they paid only $5,139 for the family’s travel arrangements — and could not go back home until she worked another 16 months for them, according to the indictment.
Court records indicate that the woman and her older daughter worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week at the couple’s restaurant, Latino’s, and at Redding Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Services for far below minimum wage and that the younger girl worked several hours a day for no pay.
Aside from the forced labor, the woman and her daughters were physically abused and degraded, prosecutors said. On multiple occasions, the woman was forced to eat leftover scraps of food, humiliated in front of her daughters and threatened with whippings with a vacuum cord, the indictment states.
The girls also were repeatedly struck with a stick, according to the indictment.
If convicted of the forced labor charges, the Martinezes face up to 20 years in prison. The harboring charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Neither prosecution nor defense attorneys could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.