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5 convicted for forcing immigrants into prostitution

February 11, 2009 |  4:37 pm

A federal court jury Wednesday convicted five people in connection with a plot to lure impoverished young women from Guatemala to the United States with the promise of legitimate jobs, only to force them into prostitution to repay their supposed debts for being smuggled into the country.

All five defendants are illegal immigrants, four of them women from Guatelmala who also worked as prostitutes. As the verdicts were read, the five defendatns sat expressionless, as they did through much of the monthlong trial in front of U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow.

The case presented by federal prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of 10 young women who said they were forced to work as prostitutes and turn over their pay to the defendants.

Only one woman said she knew she was going to work in the sex trade before arriving in Los Angeles. The others said they were expecting to work as baby-sitters, housekeepers, waitresses or doing other jobs in which they hoped to earn up to $10 an hour, far more than they could in Guatemala.

Only after they arrived in the U.S., the young women testified, were they they told the truth about what they’d be doing. “These defendants exploited their hopes for a better life in the United States,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Cheryl Murphy told jurors shortly before they were given the case last week.

--Scott Glover