Crime - Sacto 911

Shasta County couple charged with forcing Guatemalan woman and her daughters into labor

A married Shasta County couple have been charged with forced labor, accused of forcing a Guatemalan woman and her juvenile daughters to work long hours at a restaurant for minimal to no pay, according to a recently unsealed indictment in federal court in Sacramento.

Nery and Maura Martinez, both 50, of Shasta Lake allegedly harbored the woman and her two daughters after their visas expired, forcing them into labor, abusing them and threatening them with arrest or separation from each other for nearly a year and a half, according to a news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The couple allegedly conspired to bring the three individuals to the United States using temporary work visas, then imposed a debt on the victims to keep them from returning to Guatemala. The allegations cover the span between September 2016 and February 2018.

The couple also are accused of subjecting them to “physical, psychological, and verbal abuse,” Monday’s news release says. They allegedly threatened the victims with arrest and said they would separate the Guatemalan woman from her daughters in order to compel them into labor, according to the indictment, which was filed in federal court last Thursday and unsealed Monday.

Both defendants face charges of forced labor, alien harbor for financial gain and additional conspiracy charges for each of those alleged crimes. If convicted, the forced labor charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, and alien harboring carries a 10-year sentence.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Sacramento office.

The indictment was made in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.