TACOMA — A Forks-area couple has been indicted on federal charges of holding a Guatemalan woman against her will, abusing her and forcing her to pick salal to repay a debt.
The woman also told authorities she was raped.
Antonio Francisco-Pablo and Antonia Marcos-Diego were each indicted in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma on April 5 on charges of conspiracy of encouraging and inducing an alien to enter the United States and forced labor.
The alleged sexual abuse falls under the forced labor charge.
Federal court papers say the couple first contacted the woman — Marcos-Diego’s relative — in spring of 2015 encouraging her to come to the United States for a better life.
“They also told her they would help her get a job and she would make a lot of money so she could take care of her family,” Special Agent Edward Bluhm of Homeland Security Investigations wrote in the complaint.
Shortly after she was smuggled into the United States near Yuma, Ariz., around September 2015, U.S. immigration authorities stopped her and released her, pending further deportation proceedings.
She was required to wear an electronic bracelet and report to immigration authorities.
When she arrived in Forks that September, the couple forced her to stay in a trailer, refused to let her go anywhere alone, were verbally abusive, kept all of her earnings and threatened to kill her or report her to immigration authorities, she told investigators.
She told investigators Francisco-Pablo raped her about five times and threatened to kill her if she fled or told anyone.
“He told her he had killed before in Guatemala, and he could kill her too,” Bluhm wrote. “He threatened to drive [her] into the woods and drop her off and the bears would get her.”
She said when she rejected his advances and told Marcos-Diego, he only became more aggressive.
The woman told investigators the couple would take all her money that she earned picking salal, a brush commonly used by florists, and would charge her for every expense.
It would cost $10 each day for transportation to the forest, $50 per week for food, $200 for rent — which allowed her and her 9-year-old to sleep on the floor of the trailer — and $500 per ride to Seattle or Tacoma for meetings with immigration authorities, she said.
When she crossed illegally into the U.S., her guide told her the fee was $1,000 so that the couple “could not cheat [her] into paying a higher fee,” records say.
Soon after she crossed the border, the couple told her she owed about $6,000 and became angry when the victim mentioned the amount the guide had told her, according to court records.
Though the couple took all her paychecks, the woman’s debt had grown to about $15,000 by the time she fled in November 2015.
The alleged victim said she did not have a vehicle and couldn’t speak English, so she didn’t have the ability to go anywhere without the couple.
Her first language is Q’anjob’al, a native dialect of Guatemala, but she could understand some Spanish.
The abuse was discovered Nov. 28, 2015, when the alleged victim, who was walking along a ditch in the area of Dan Kelly and Colville roads, flagged down a passer-by.
She was crying and appeared emotionally distraught, her clothes were wet and she couldn’t speak English, records say.
Charging papers say Marcos-Diego denied the accusations and said the victim has a reputation for making accusations against others. Marcos-Diego denied charging the woman for rides to the immigration office but asked a detective if she could get the alleged victim to sign a paper agreeing to pay Marcos-Diego and Francisco-Pablo money allegedly owed to them.
Francisco-Pablo told investigators it cost a lot of money to get the woman to the United States from Guatemala and denied ever making inappropriate sexual advances toward her.
Francisco-Pablo is currently jailed at Federal Detention Center, SeaTac. A warrant for Marcos-Diego’s arrest was issued April 5.
A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said she could not comment on the victim in this case but said that typically, trafficking victims are eligible for visas that allow them to stay in the United States to help law enforcement.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].