The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has rescued eight victims from the perils of human trafficking, while two suspects are behind bars for coercing them into commercial sex acts.
The HCSO Human Trafficking Section received a tip referring to a possible case of human trafficking Last week. The tip suggested that a victim was forced to perform commercial sex acts to pay off a “debt” of $60,000.00 for being brought to the United States from Cuba.
Additional information received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline informed that the two suspects, Amet Ramon Maqueira De La Cal, 35, and Rosalia Leonard Garcia, 29, confiscated documents and cell phones from several women brought to the United States. United from Cuba. The victims were then separated between two apartments and had to pay their food and rent.
On October 19, 2022, detectives began carrying out covert surveillance of the two apartments. There, they observed a dark blue SUV registered in the name of Amet Ramon Maqueira De La Cal. Detectives also saw who they believed to be the two suspects entering and exiting the two apartments. At one point, three young women entered the vehicle, driven by Amet Ramon Maqueira De La Cal, and then left the scene.
The victims were then taken to two separate locations, first to a local gentlemen’s club and later to a gambling establishment. Through investigative means, detectives learned that the women had been forced to work in various clubs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, to pay off their “travel debt” for being brought to the United States from Cuba. They were also coerced into performing commercial sex acts through prostitution.
Throughout the investigation, detectives also learned that some of the victims were featured in advertisements on online escort sites.
Detectives again began secretly watching another SUV, driven by Rosalia Leonard Garcia. Several women were dropped off at a local mall. At that time, detectives used a form of deception to separate a victim they had previously recognized from an online advertisement. In doing so, the victim has corroborated the advice and information learned throughout the investigation thus far. She also said that all of the women traveling in the vehicle, except for the suspect, were victims of human trafficking.
A residential search warrant was authorized and executed at the apartments. There, detectives found cash, condoms, a stolen gun and various pieces of identification. The gun was allegedly used as an intimidation tactic to coerce women into engaging in commercial sex acts. It was also used to scare them and threaten the families of the victims.
Detectives saved eight women from the scheme. Selah Freedom helped them find a safe place to stay for a week and coordinate resources for victims.
“I have no doubt that if the Human Trafficking Section of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office had not intervened, this heinous affair would have continued, grown and could have resulted in the death of one of eight saved women”, said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “These suspects cared about nothing but making money off of innocent lives, who were forced into deplorable living and working conditions.”
Amet Ramon Maqueira De La Cal and Rosalia Leonard Garcia were subsequently arrested and both face the following charges:
- Human Trafficking (x8)
- Drifting from the support of prostitution (x4)
- Transport for prostitution (x4)
- Illegal use of a two-way communication device
- RICO – Racketeering Act Influencing Corrupt Organizations
- False Imprisonment (x8)
- Forcing another into prostitution (x4)
- Solicitation/Conspiracy to Commit Sexual Battery (x8)
- Human Trafficking (x8)
Additionally, Amet Ramon Maqueira De La Cal is also facing a Grand Theft – Firearm charge.
The investigation is ongoing. Additional information will be provided by the HCSO Public Affairs Office as it becomes available.