Three Indicted for Human Trafficking in Peruvian Restaurant

By Claire Duguid

Three people were indicted for human trafficking and witness tampering following an investigation of a Peruvian restaurant, Inca’s Secret, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Those accused: two of the restaurant’s managers and their associate.

Maria Rosalba Alvarado McTague and Felix Adriano Chujoy were indicted in December on charges of conspiracy to violate immigration statutes, harboring an alien, inducing an alien for financial gain, and visa fraud. Gladys Georgette Chujoy was charged in March for aiding them.

The investigation, led by the FBI and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, began when an anonymous caller contacted the National Human Trafficking Hotline. According to the investigation, Alvarado and Felix Chujoy illegally recruited, smuggled, and employed workers from their home country of Peru. Alvarado reportedly travelled regularly to Peru where she recruited workers by promising housing and paid work at the restaurant.

Upon their arrival, the workers were forced to live in Alvarado’s basement and work seven days a week, twelve hours a day, for less than $1.50 an hour. They were also forced to do unpaid work outside the restaurant. The workers were isolated from connections outside of the restaurant and the house, binding them to Alvarado and Felix Chujoy.

When recruited, they were told they would only have to work at the restaurant for six months to pay off the debt of bringing them into the United States. But under threats and harassment from their traffickers, all stayed much longer.

Protecting the witnesses will be vital to ensure a successful prosecution. They’ll likely be reluctant to testify if their traffickers remain in a position of intimidation. Without other significant evidence, however, the case runs the risk of being dropped.

The severe lack of safety guarantees and legal representation for testifying victims, the legal system’s heavy reliance on victim testimonies, and the focus on prosecuting only the traffickers while overlooking peripheral enablers often inhibit the success of trafficking cases.

Victim-centered investigations facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators and prevent them from victimizing more workers. Prosecutors should implement protective measures—allowing witnesses to remain anonymous, for example—during and after trial. In addition, victims should never be threatened with prosecution in relation to their irregular immigration status or any criminal activity they were forced to participate in as a result of being trafficked. Finally, victims should also have access to psychosocial and medical services.

With the proliferation of trafficking cases, law enforcement and prosecutors should adopt these approaches for the sake of both the victims and the legal cases against the perpetrators.

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Published on April 30, 2015

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