LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — A Sylmar couple has been charged with human trafficking and slavery involving a 9-year-old girl who was smuggled from El Salvador.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said the girl, who is now 11, spent two years working four days a week in a Pacoima restaurant, named Costa Del Sol, owned by 50-year-old Dora Alicia Valle. When she wasn’t working there, authorities said she was ordered to clean the apartment shared by Valle and her boyfriend, 40-year-old Estrada Melvin Sandoval.
Valle allegedly paid to have the girl smuggled into the United States from El Salvador in 2012.
Neighborhood children told KCAL9’s Kristine Lazar that the girl never left the apartment except to run errands.
“Going to get mail and going to go get groceries,” a boy said.
“She never came out, she never talked to anybody,” another child said.
A woman inside Costa Del Sol said the female suspect was like a mother to the girl and doubted the allegations.
“A lot of the times the traffickers actually coach the victims and train them on what to say and how to act. They scare them so much and they threaten their family, that they actually do that…they follow the orders,” Maya Paley of the National Council of Jewish Women said.
Valle and Sandoval pleaded not guilty Thursday to one felony count each of human trafficking and one count each of slavery. Their bail is set at $175,000 each.
If convicted, the couple faces more than 12 years in prison.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 29.
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