A Sylmar couple has pleaded not guilty to accusations that they paid to have a 9-year-old girl smuggled to the U.S. from Central America and forced her to work at their restaurant.
Dora Alicia Valle, 50, and her live-in boyfriend, Estrada Melvin Sandoval, 40, were charged with one count each of human trafficking and slavery.
The girl, now 11, was brought to the Los Angeles area from El Salvador in 2012, according to the L.A. County district attorney's office.
The pair allegedly forced the girl to work four days a week at Costa Del Sol, a Pacoima restaurant that Valle owned. When she wasn’t at the restaurant, prosecutors say, she was ordered to clean the couple’s Sylmar home.
In a statement, L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said, "We will not allow our children to be treated as human commodities."
If convicted, Valle and Sandoval each face more than 12 years in state prison. They are scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on April 29.