Northern California pair charged in 1997 kidnapping of teenage girl
SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California couple facing forced labor charges for allegedly forcing three Guatemalan immigrants to work long hours at their businesses for minimal pay have been charged in the 1997 kidnapping of a 13-year-old girl from Las Vegas.
A federal grand jury on Thursday returned a superseding indictment against Nery Martinez Vasquez and his wife, Maura Martinez, both 52 and both from Shasta Lake, about 170 miles north of Sacramento, charging them with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping, federal prosecutors announced.
In January 1997, the couple allegedly conspired to kidnap a 13-year-old girl from her Las Vegas home. They promised the girl’s parents they would bring her back in a week. They then drove her to their home in Redding, California, and held her against her will and the will of her parents for almost two years. Martinez Vasquez also allegedly sexually molested and raped the girl many times, prosecutors said.
Mark Reichel, who is representing Martinez Vasquez, did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment. Maura Martinez’s attorney, Tasha Chalfant, said she looks forward to defending her client at trial.
In 2019, the couple pleaded not guilty to charges they allegedly forced a Guatemalan woman and her two minor daughters to work long hours at their restaurant and janitorial service for little or no pay.
Prosecutors say the couple, who themselves are naturalized citizens from Guatemala, brought the woman and her daughters to the United States in 2016 using temporary visitor visas. They are charged with harboring them after their visas expired and imposing a false $12,000 debt to keep them from returning to Guatemala.
They are also alleged to have separated the mother from her daughters, threatened them with arrest, and subjected them to physical, psychological and verbal abuse that included striking the two girls with a stick.
The couple operated a restaurant called Latino’s as well as Redding Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Services, according to the indictment.
The woman and her daughters were required to live in “a dilapidated, unheated trailer, with no air conditioning or running water.” They humiliated her in front of her daughters and forced her to eat leftover food scraps, authorities said.
The abuse ended in February 2018, according to the indictment, but authorities did not say what happened to the woman and her daughters. The government also moved to seize property held by the two defendants.
The couple faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges, officials said.