Retrial in human trafficking case

COSTA MESA — Two men convicted of kidnapping and holding an illegal immigrant mother and her child in a Costa Mesa motel for ransom in 2005 will get a retrial after a panel of judges ruled jurors were not given proper instructions before reaching their verdict.

Reynaldo Eid Jr. of New York and Alaor Oliveira Jr. of Connecticut were granted a new trial Thursday by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. They had been sentenced to life in prison in March 2009.

In its 29-page opinion, the panel said Orange County Superior Court Judge Carla Singer failed to explain to jurors the prosecutors' burden to prove that the two immigrants wanted to escape and that their captors knew it.

Singer did not offer jurors possible defenses requested by the men's attorneys and failed to properly answer a question jurors asked during deliberations, the panel ruled.

Part of the traffickers' defense was that they were not aware their human cargo, an illegal immigrant mother from Brazil named Ana and her young son, wanted to leave their motel in Costa Mesa in November 2005. At the time, Eid and Oliveira were only the most recent links in a chain of people expected to help move the Brazilians to Mexico, across the border into Southern California and later Florida with the woman's husband and boy's father.

The father, Jefferson Ribeiro, agreed to pay $18,000 to an acquaintance to get Ana and their son to join him in Florida after a five-day trip by plane and car. Ribeiro was also in the country illegally since his tourist visa had expired months earlier.

The judges' opinion outlined how little control the wife and son had over their situation once they began their journey and how Eid and Oliveira tried to capitalize on it.

A coyote, or human trafficker, bought Ana and her son round-trip tickets from Brazil to Mexico. Once in Mexico, they stayed in a motel for three days before moving closer to the border, where they stayed in a home with 40 other Brazilians waiting to illegally cross into the United States.

Though Ribeiro had paid his acquaintance in Florida, there was no way of knowing if that money made it to Mexico to help his wife and son cross. In Mexico, the coyotes said they had not been paid enough to help the two cross and instead, the parties agreed Ana and the boy should go back to Brazil.

Before mother and son left the house in Mexico to return to Brazil, an unidentified third person picked them up, hid them under the backseat of a truck and brought them into the United States. Ana and her son were handed off from trafficker to trafficker throughout the trip and always went willingly, according to the court's opinion.

Once in the United States, the two illegal immigrants were dropped off at a gas station and picked up by Eid and Oliveira.

Ana, her son, Eid and Oliveira and another illegal immigrant stayed at a Travelodge in Costa Mesa. They were treated well, court documents showed. Their second day at the motel, Eid called Ribeiro and demanded $14,000 to send Ana and his son to meet him in Florida.

Ribeiro didn't have the money and offered to make it in payments. Eid and Oliveira threatened to send the mother and son to New York to work off their debt. That is, according to the judges, when the situation changed. Ana told the men she wanted to leave with her son. They refused to let her go and threatened her. Ana was afraid to call police because she worried she'd be deported and possibly separated from her son.

Ribeiro had an acquaintance go to the motel to pick up his family when Eid and Oliveira refused to release them. That attempt failed too, as Eid and Oliveira again refused to let them go and went back into their motel room, slamming the door behind them, court documents show.

The men ordered everyone to pack up their things to leave. As the group tried to drive out of the motel parking lot, they were blocked in by Costa Mesa police and arrested. Ribeiro's acquaintances called police when Eid and Oliveira refused to let Ana and her son go.

After the incident, Ana and her son travelled to Florida on trafficking visas granted to victims of crimes and were allowed to stay in the country.

The court's opinion will be finalized Oct. 19. After that, a new trial for Eid and Oliveira will be scheduled.

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