Two people were arrested in Tampa, Florida, in connection with a human trafficking case that began in Cuba, according to authorities.
Amet Ramon Maqueira de la Cal and Rosalia Leonard Garcia were arrested on multiple charges, including human trafficking and false imprisonment.
Multiple women between the ages of 18 and 24 were forced into stripping and prostitution. The women had been held in two small rooms and were only allowed out to perform sex work. They were rescued by deputies at a mall in Tampa.
“They were forced to work in various adult entertainment clubs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and never allowed to leave the home without an escort,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a press conference Monday.
The two suspects were allegedly part of a plot that charged each woman $60,000 to be transported out of Cuba, across the southern border and into the U.S. The captors had threatened to harm the women and their families if they did not work as sex workers to repay their debt, according to deputies.
Chronister said a tip from the public led his agency’s human trafficking unit to the operation.
The team was able to use video surveillance to determine that seven of the women would be taken last Thursday by one of the suspects to International Plaza in Tampa for supplies. Deputies took them all into custody and were led to the eighth woman and the other alleged captor.
Chronister said the women have received medical treatment and a safe place to stay.
The sheriff also explained that federal authorities will decide whether the women will be deported to Cuba or allowed to remain in the U.S.
A statewide prosecutor from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office has been assigned to the case. Moody called it “one of the worst trafficking cases” she has seen.
Moody also criticized the U.S. border policy, saying it allows people and drugs to be smuggled across the southern border.
“These horrific sex acts of sex trafficking are a direct result of the crisis we are experiencing at the border,” she said at the press conference at the sheriff’s office.