News/US: Illegal Immigrants Raped, Beaten By Smugglers, Man Says

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Subject: News/US: Illegal Immigrants Raped, Beaten By Smugglers, Man Says
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Dec 13 1999 - 08:36:16 EST


Illegal Immigrants Raped, Beaten By Smugglers, Man Says
+Arrests: Mexican Citizen Says They Were Attacked In Apartment Here For
Failure To Pay $1,200 Apiece. Eight Suspects Are Held, But Up To 20 May
Have Been Involved.
David Rosenzweig
Los Angeles Times, December 9, 1999

An illegal immigrant from Mexico has told federal authorities he was forced
to watch as up to 20 men raped and sodomized his aunt and girlfriend last
week while the three were held hostage by smugglers in a Canoga Park
apartment.

Between the sexual assaults, Angel Garcia said, the smugglers beat him and
another man with wrenches. Both men were driven from the Roscoe Boulevard
apartment to a remote area near Moorpark, in Ventura County, and dumped in
a field. Garcia's girlfriend, aunt and a male cousin were abandoned near
the desert community of Brawley in Imperial County.

The details of the alleged ordeal were disclosed earlier this week in an
affidavit filed in federal court and in interviews with law enforcement
authorities.

Immigrants smuggled into Southern California are often held hostage at a
"drop house" until their relatives, friends or prospective employers pay
for their release. In this case, authorities said, the smugglers turned
violent when the families couldn't come up with the $ 1,200 demanded of
each immigrant.

Eight men have been arrested in connection with the episode. Seven of them
have been implicated in the rapes and beatings, a spokesman for the U.S.
attorney's office said. Those allegations will be referred to local law
enforcement agencies for prosecution.

Jim Hayes, who heads the Immigration and Naturalization Service's
anti-smuggling unit, said the suspects are believed to be members of an
extended family active in smuggling immigrants across the border into
California.

One of their trademarks, he said, is playing rough with illegal immigrants
who cannot meet their demands for money.

Authorities said the girlfriend was examined at a hospital and found to
have been raped and sodomized. She is now staying with relatives in Orange
County. The aunt's whereabouts are unknown.

Sheriff's deputies found Garcia and the other male, took them to a hospital
and called the INS.

A major break in the case came a few days after the alleged attacks while
Garcia's girlfriend was being interviewed by an INS agent at her relatives'
home, authorities said.

One of the suspects, Leonel Estudillo-Martinez, 21, telephoned her from the
U.S. Border Patrol office in El Centro, where he and Jose Luis
Martinez-Salazar, 22, were picked up for making an unauthorized crossing,
authorities said.

Estudillo-Martinez asked her to forgive him, INS Agent Heath Thomas said in
an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.

Estudillo-Martinez was then brought to Los Angeles. He identified Mario
Arenas, 31, as the leader of the operation and led INS agents to the Canoga
Park apartment, Thomas said. There the agents found suspect Ruben
Amezcua-Casa, 24, who directed them to a house in Pacoima, where Arenas and
the other suspects were holed up, Thomas said.

When the agents arrived, they saw three barefoot men being hustled by three
other men from a garage to a minivan, Thomas said.

Arenas, who was seated in a car, turned on the engine and rammed an INS
vehicle, the agents said.

Arenas and four other suspects were arrested there. They are Carlos
Garcia-Serrano, 35; Oscar Lopez-Serrano, 24; Marcelino Flores-Lesama, 19;
and Manuel Gonzalez-Garcia, 23. All are Mexican citizens.

All but Martinez-Salazar have been implicated in the rapes and beatings.

Meanwhile, Garcia, one of the victims, is recovering from a concussion,
broken ribs, a fractured cheekbone, black eyes and injuries to his ears,
said Assistant U.S. Atty. Shannon Wright. She said it appeared that the
smuggler's had "tried to rip off his ears with pliers."

His friend, Francisco Rodriguez Acuna, remains at County-USC Medical
Center. Wright said he was beaten with a plumber's wrench and kicked
repeatedly by someone wearing steel-tipped boots.

Arenas, the suspected ringleader, was indicted earlier this year in a
similar incident involving alleged sexual assaults and beatings of illegal
immigrants. He eluded capture at the time.

Wright said Arenas also was implicated in a third case in which witnesses
told of being raped, but he was never indicted because he had fled the
country.

Melanie Orhant

morhant@igc.org
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