Shasta County couple sentences to prison for forcing immigrant family into servitude

A Shasta Lake couple was going to prison on Monday for bringing a Guatemalan family to the US, harboring them until their visas expired and unlawfully forcing them to work for minimal to no pay.

The defendants, Nery A. Martinez Vasquez, 54, and his wife Maura N. Martinez, 54, had previously pleaded guilty in August 2021 to the charge of conspiracy to commit forced labor.

An indictment outlining the allegations against Vasquez and Martinez was brought in 2019 by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of California. The couple owned Latino’s Mexican Restaurant in Shasta Lake and Redding Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Services, the indictment said.

This sign was posted on the front door of Latino’s Mexican Restaurant on Monday, June 24, 2019.

On Monday, Vasquez was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, while Martinez received a three-year prison sentence. Both defendants were to three years of supervised release and a fine of $25,000. The defendants were also required to pay $300,000 in restitution to seven victims.

According to court documents, the defendants convinced the victims — a Guatemalan woman and her two minor daughters, aged 15 and 8 — to come to the US in August 2016 by falsely promising them a better life.

The defendants then exploited the family’s immigration status and inability to speak English, court documents said.

Vasquez and Martinez arranged for the family to enter the US with temporary visitor visas and went on to cause them to violate the visa terms and stay in the country illegally, according to the indictment.

From September 2016 to February 2018, the defendants used various coercive means to force their victims into working long hours of demanding work, seven days a week, for minimal to no pay, officials said.

Earlier coverage: Shasta County couple harbored immigrant family, forced them to work, indictment alleges

The defendants kept the two daughters away from school and working at their cleaning businesses by telling the victims that they’d be arrested by immigration authorities if they attempted to go to school.

The couple also imposed a debt on the victims to prevent them from returning to Guatemala, according to the indictment. The defendants housed the victims in a dilapidated, unheated trailer with no running water, according to authorities.

“This case highlights how such crimes may occur in public view at a legitimate business yet go unnoticed,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan for the FBI Sacramento Field Division. “We hope today’s sentencing will offer the victims confidence as they continue to reclaim their lives.”

Michele Chandler covers city government and housing issues for the Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. Follow her on Twitter at @MChandler_RS, call her at 530-225-8344 or email her at michele.chandler@redding.com. Please support our entire newsroom’s commitment to public service journalism by subscribing today.

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Shasta Lake business owners get prison in immigrant forced labor case

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