Shasta Lake business owners jailed in forced immigrant labor case

A Shasta Lake couple were sentenced to prison on Monday for bringing a Guatemalan family to the United States, housing them until their visas expired and illegally forcing them to work for minimal pay or even bad.

The defendants, Nery A. Martinez Vasquez, 54, and his wife Maura N. Martinez, 54, 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 filed in 2019 by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. The couple owned Mexican restaurant Latino in Shasta Lake and Redding Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Services, according to the indictment.

On Monday, Vasquez was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, while Martinez was sentenced to three years in prison. Both defendants were sentenced to three years of probation and fined $25,000. The defendants were also ordered 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 United States in August 2016 by falsely promising them a better life.

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

Vasquez and Martinez arranged for the family to enter the United States on temporary visitor visas and tricked them into violating the terms of the visa and remaining in the country illegally, according to the indictment.

From September 2016 to February 2018, defendants used various coercive means to force their victims to perform long hours of physically demanding work, seven days a week, for little or no pay, officials said.

Previous cover:Shasta County couple housed immigrant family and forced them to work, indictment alleges

The defendants kept the two girls away from school and from work at their cleaning companies, telling the victims they would be arrested by immigration authorities if they attempted to attend 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 trailer that was unheated and without running water, authorities said.

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

Michele Chandler covers municipal 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.