In July 2005, a 31-count indictment was returned against Luisa Medrano, 51, of Cliffside Park and nine others.
Medrano, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from El Salvador in 1974, admitted that from October 2004 to January 2005 she harbored illegal Hondurans and employed them at her bars in Union City and Guttenberg. Ringleaders had forced them to work there to pay off smuggling debts that ranged up to $20,000, authorities said.
Luisa Medrano is the 10th defendant to plead guilty in connection with a smuggling ring that brought more than 20 young women and teenagers from small villages in Honduras with promises of employment as waitresses and then forced them to work at bars in Union City, New Jersey. Medrano owned the Hudson County bars where the young women were put to work: El Paisano Bar and Nightclub, at 509 22nd St., Union City; El Puerto de la Union I, at 6710 Bergenline Ave., Guttenberg; and El Puerto de la Union II, at 3806 Bergenline Ave., Union City.
Medrano also owned the three apartment buildings where the women were housed: 509 22nd St. and 2604 New York Ave., both in Union City, and 75 68th St. in Guttenberg. The women worked at the bars six days a week, from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., for $240 a week plus tips, and lived the apartments where they were virtually imprisoned. The women, including at least four juveniles who obtained false identification, would get the male patrons to buy beers for themselves and the women, and would dance with the patrons for $3 a dance.
After rescue, the women stated that they were beaten, their families had been threatened in Honduras, and they were subjected to forced abortions. Investigative efforts resulted in the rescue of nineteen Honduran females, six of whom were juveniles as young as 14 years of age.
The victims were relocated and received counselling, education and other services. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, all qualify for special visas that allow them to stay in the country and become naturalized citizens.
In January 2005, federal agents raided two Union City apartments owned by Medrano, of Cliffside Park, and arrested 22 illegal immigrants. Ten of them, including Honduran, six of whom were juveniles as young as 14 years of age, were declared to be victims of human trafficking and given special visas to remain in the United States after they told investigators that Medrano lured them to America with the promise of waitress jobs, but forced them to work as hostesses. The other immigrants arrested in the raids told investigators that Medrano did not arrange their smuggling, adding the women voluntarily lived and worked together. They were then deported.
In June 2005, the government of Honduras, in collaboration with ICE, arrested four other persons, charging them under Honduran law with human smuggling and trafficking.
Luisa Medrano was the last of 10 defendants charged with running a human trafficking ring, and went to trial September 18. Federal authorities said she played no part in the smuggling operation.
Under federal guidelines, Medrano faces from 24 to 30 months in federal prison when she was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano in Trenton on December 26. As part of her plea agreement, Medrano agreed to make restitution for all the losses to her victims. She also agreed to forfeit the two homes in Guttenberg and Union City where the women were harbored. The two properties are valued in excess of $500,000. She also must pay about $250,000 in federal taxes, plus interest and penalties.
Others indicted in the case were charged in their roles as recruiters, smugglers, money collectors and enforcers who made sure the women stayed in line.
Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress on U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in persons. June 2006, p. 19.
Lexis Nexis: - Jonathan Miller, F.B.I. Raids on the Mayor Make Him Topic A in a Small Town, The New York Times, February 16, 2007, Section B; Column 1; Metropolitan Desk; Guttenberg Journal, Pg. 5.
Ending modern slavery, Opinion, Pg. L06; The Record (Bergen County, NJ) September 14, 2006Peter J. Sampson, Staff writer, North Jersey Media Group; 3confess to role in trafficking of Honduran women; The Record (Bergen County, NJ) August 4, 2006, News Pg. A03.
Bar owner admits harboring illegal aliens in smuggling ring; The Associated Press State & Local Wire, September 12, 2006.