8 human trafficking victims rescued

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TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced on Monday that eight human trafficking victims were rescued after receiving a tip.

During a press conference in Tampa, Sheriff Chronister said, “within the span of just a few days, we’ve rescued eight women from the perils of human trafficking.”

The rescue, per Chronister, occurred after detectives received a tip that a woman had been smuggled from Cuba and across the southern border of Mexico and was being obligated to pay her smugglers for the illegal entry into the U.S.

“The tip further explained that the traffickers made threats against the woman and her family and that if her debt was not immediately repaid, she would be forced to work in the sex trade until her financial obligation was satisfied,” Chronister added. “The tip also indicated that there were several other women that were trapped in this horrific situation.”

After further investigation, which included a surveillance operation, detectives learned the women’s ages ranged between 18 and 24, the victims were being forced to work in “various adult entertainment clubs” in both Hillsborough and Pinellas, and the victims weren’t allowed to leave the home they were being kept in without an escort.

“All the trapped women were working as prostitutes, strippers and forced to perform other types of sex acts to pay off their debt of $60,000 each, which is what the smuggling cost was to enter the United States,” Chronister said.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, detectives rescued seven of the victims after following them and one of their traffickers to the International Plaza. At the same time, a search warrant was issued for two of the properties where the victims were being kept, and detectives rescued the eighth woman.

Chronister said the couple responsible for the trafficking and tormenting of the victims were arrested. 35-year-old Maqueira De La Cal and 29-year-old Rosalia Leonard Garcia are each facing 47 charges that include human trafficking, human smuggling, false imprisonment, and RICO for their organized crime activities.

“This organized criminal enterprise was nothing short of modern-day slavery,” Chronister said. “I have no doubt that if our human trafficking investigators had not acted as quickly as they did, this situation would have continued, expanded, and could have ended up with one of these victims losing their life at the hands of these traffickers who only cared about profiting off these women.”

According to Chronister, the victims were forced to stay five women to one room in bunk beds with the remaining three victims also having to share a room. Chronister said they had no light in their bedrooms and all had to share a single bathroom.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who joined Chronister on Monday, said, “This is one of the worst trafficking cases that I have seen. It hits on every element when we are training law enforcement and prosecutors across the state in what to look for in one of these cases.”

“In this case, I am extraordinarily proud of the brave, courageous eight women who lived through hell for months, not knowing if they would ever be able to get out of that situation,” Moody added. “…Our statewide prosecutors will aggressively prosecute these two individuals.”

All eight victims, per Chronister, received medical care and are connected with safe housing and other services from Selah Freedom.

“Most of the time when they’re recovered, they only have the clothes that are on their back,” said Angelea Valenti, the Assessment Coordinator with Selah Freedom.

Valenti shared some of the many resources that are available to victims through their organization.

“We provide them with ten outfits, a brand new outfit, all of their toiletries. They’re given these gift bags that local organizations will give them words of encouragement,” said Valenti. “They get to really just pause, rest, and reflect when they come into the assessment home. That’s where they’ll start getting life skills groups like communication, codependency, self-esteem.”

Valenti said they will also get trauma therapy onsite once a week.

If you need help, you can call the hotline 1-888-8-FREE-ME.

Watch the full press conference below:

Sheriff Chronister, AG Moody discuss human trafficking rescues | Press Conference

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