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Smugglers assaulted immigrants, U.S. says

May 16, 2008|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

An immigrant discovered in a South Los Angeles drop house this week told authorities that she had been impregnated by one of the smugglers, and witnesses reported that several other women had been sexually assaulted, immigration officials said Thursday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents also found two weapons in the house, a .22-caliber pistol and a stun gun, which the immigrants said were used to control and threaten them.

Sixty illegal immigrants, mostly from Central America, were found in a single-family house on South Normandie Avenue, living among piles of trash and rotting food. They included 40 Salvadorans, nine Guatemalans, seven Hondurans, three Mexicans and a Nicaraguan. There also were three toddlers -- including one who is a U.S. citizen, who are now being held with their mothers at a private shelter -- and six teenagers.

Agents executed a search warrant at the house Wednesday as part of an ongoing human-smuggling investigation.

Several of the people probably will face criminal charges for their involvement in the smuggling, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The agency is continuing to investigate whether there is a connection to a large-scale human-smuggling ring raided in February in Los Angeles that allegedly grossed $6 million to $18 million annually transporting about 5,000 undocumented immigrants.

Agents spent the day Wednesday interviewing the immigrants, who reported being held against their will and paying $5,000 to $7,000 in smuggling fees to be led across the border in Arizona. One person reported paying $12,000.

"They had some pretty harrowing accounts," Kice said.

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

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