• BREAKING NEWS Shelter in place lifted after prisoner captured

Couple charged with forcing woman into sex work

November 25, 2009 8:28:27 PM PST
A young woman from Mexico was smuggled over the border and forced to work as a prostitute for years in Brooklyn, and the remains of an infant were found in concrete at the home where she was held prisoner, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. The woman was beaten so frequently by her captors, sometimes with bricks and wooden boards, that scars and bruises covered her body, according to a federal affidavit.

Domingo Salazar and his wife, Norma Mendez, appeared in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on sex trafficking charges and were being held without bail. Their attorneys had no comment.

Federal officials received information this month on a possible sex trafficking case and located the woman Tuesday night near the home in Brooklyn. According to the affidavit, the woman, who is unnamed, told authorities she met Salazar in Mexico in 2007 through mutual friends. She got pregnant in March of that year, and he suggested they move to the U.S. so the child could have a better life.

The two were smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico on foot. He traveled to New York to set up a place to live, while she waited in Phoenix, where they crossed over. She moved into the apartment in Brooklyn with Mendez and Salazar a few months later, according to the affidavit.

Salazar, 33, told the woman that Mendez, 32, was his sister. The woman, who's in her 20s, gave birth Nov. 17, 2007, to a boy, and shortly after Salazar said she'd have to work to pay off her smuggling debt. He forced her into prostitution, requiring her to have sex with as many as 15 clients "per shift," according to the affidavit. She also worked "double shifts" where she'd be forced to have sex with 25 clients, federal prosecutors said.

She gave half the money to her driver, and the other half to Salazar. He started beating her if she didn't earn enough or arrived home late, sometimes with bricks and wooden boards, according to the affidavit. She eventually discovered Mendez was Salazar's wife. Mendez also beat her for - among other things - having a baby, the affidavit said.

On Jan. 12, 2008, her 3-month-old son went limp, and Salazar refused to take the child to a hospital, federal prosecutors said. The child died that day, and the woman was forced to conceal the remains in a cement block that was put in a plastic storage bin inside the apartment, according to the affidavit.

On Tuesday, NYPD officials discovered the bin, with the remains of an infant inside. A cause of death was pending an autopsy. No charges have been filed in the death of the baby.

When the woman was interviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, she had a broken nose, swollen eye scars from cuts and a disfigured finger from an old break. She doesn't speak English.

"The trafficking of human beings and sex slavery are unconscionable in this day and age and will not be tolerated," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said.

If convicted, the couple faces life imprisonment.


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