Nine Guatemalans were indicted for their roles in an alleged sex trafficking ring that lured young women to the United States with promises of good jobs and then forced them into prostitution, according to federal court records.
Four of the defendants pleaded not guilty in January to sex trafficking charges in the case. A superseding indictment, unsealed Thursday, includes more serious allegations that five of the 12 victims were minors.
According to the new 50-count indictment, the defendants at times sold Guatemalan women and girls to one another like slaves and allegedly brought the victims to witch doctors who threatened to put curses on them and their families if they ran away.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles returned the indictment against Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela, 36; her sisters, Mirna Jeanneth, 26, and Albertina, 49; and Albertina’s daughter, Maria Vicente de los Angeles, 28.
The four face charges of sex trafficking of minors; sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; violating federal laws prohibiting interstate or foreign transport of minors for prostitution; and importing and harboring undocumented immigrants and harboring them for prostitution.
Five others also were charged in the indictment for their roles in the scheme, including guarding the women to prevent them from escaping, threatening their families in Guatemala, and beating and forcing the women to work, authorities said.
The investigation began last year when two victims escaped with the help of a male customer and contacted authorities, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.