A couple forced eight women to perform commercial sex acts in Pinellas and Hillsborough clubs after they were brought from Cuba to the United States, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
Chronister held a news conference with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Monday morning to announce the arrests. According to Chronister, a couple — Amet Roman Maqueira De La Cal, 34, and Rosalia Leonard Garcia, 29, — were arrested Thursday on 47 charges related to human trafficking, false imprisonment, prostitution, unlawful use of a two-way device, sexual battery and human smuggling.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines human trafficking as a crime involving the coercing of a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts.
According to Chronister, the Sheriff’s Office received a tip that a woman was smuggled from Cuba into the United States illegally at her request. As part of the deal, the woman owed her traffickers $60,000 for getting her to the United States. To pay off the debt, the woman was told she’d have to perform commercial sex acts.
As part of their investigation, detectives discovered seven other women entrapped in the scheme.
The women, aged 18 to 24, were threatened with violence against them and their families if they didn’t comply, Chronister said. The women were forced to work in various “adult entertainment clubs” in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, according to Chronister. In addition, the couple held the women’s identification cards, cellphones and personal documents as ransom.
All the money the women earned was taken by the Maqueira De La Cal and Leonard Garcia, according to Chronister.
On Thursday, detectives followed seven of the women who were being escorted by the couple to International Plaza and Bay Street in Tampa. Undercover detectives made contact with the seven women, and “facilitated their rescue,” Chronister said.
The Sheriff’s Office then obtained two search warrants for two properties where the women were being held. Chronister said an eighth woman was found at one of the properties.
According to Chronister, five women shared one room and the other three shared another. Neither room had a light, he said, and the women all shared one bathroom.
All of the women have received medical care, Chronister said, and are being connected with housing and other services in partnership with Selah Freedom, an anti-human trafficking non-profit.
According to jail records, Leonard Garcia and Maqueira De La Cal were being held without bail on Monday. Maqueira De La Cal was being held at the Orient Road Jail and Leonard Garcia was being held at the Falkenburg Road Jail.
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This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.