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MILLCREEK — A Millcreek couple were charged Monday with helping two relatives enter the United States illegally, and then forcing them to work to pay off their debts while threatening to injure other family members if they didn’t.
Luis Mendez-Portillo, 50, and Lesbia Lisseth Figueroa Gallardo, 44, are charged in 3rd District Court with two counts of aggravated human trafficking for labor, a first-degree felony; human smuggling and benefiting from trafficking and human smuggling, second-degree felonies; four counts of forgery, a third-degree felony; and, two counts of unlawful possession of someone else’s identification documents, a class A misdemeanor.
Mendez-Portillo arranged for two women from Guatemala to get into the U.S. in November 2022.
One woman told investigators “she decided to come to the United States to earn money to send home to Guatemala to provide for her children. Her uncle, Mendez, told her he knew coyotes and would help her get across the border. (She) took approximately $16,000 in loans from Guatemalan banks and sent half the money to Mendez and the other half went to the coyote which was arranged by Mendez,” according to charging documents.
But when she arrived in Salt Lake City, Mendez allegedly told her that she owed him $20,000.
Both women were put to work at fast food restaurants managed by Gallardo and another relative. One woman says “she never filled out any employment paperwork, she was paid via a cash card, and she never knew how much they were being paid because Mendez and Gallardo managed her earnings and Mendez controlled the cash cards. At one point, Mendez told (her) that if she did not pay him what she owed, he would have her youngest son’s fingers cut off and sent to her mother in a box. She paid $11,500 to Mendez and Gallardo,” according to the charges.
The women were not allowed to have cellphones and were constantly watched by either Gallardo or Mendez-Portillo, the charges allege.
“Mendez also told (the second woman) not to escape because he had connections to people. Mendez threatened her that if she didn’t pay him back, something would happen to her family,” according to the charges.
One woman did escape, however, in January and the other in April. Prosecutors say both women are now living out of state.
Investigators said they learned that both Mendez-Portillo and Gallardo are also in the United States illegally. On Thursday, they served a search warrant on their residence and seized passports and identification documents belonging to the two women, as well a fraudulent residency and Social Security cards, the charges say.