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Couple wanted in child's death are focus of Maywood manhunt

June 18, 2013|By Richard Winton

An intensive hunt for a fugitive couple wanted in connection with the killing of their 2-year-old daughter in Mississippi is underway in Maywood and surrounding cities after the pair was allegedly spotted in the area selling cars, DVDs and puppies.

Janet and Ramon Barreto were seen as recently as last weekend in Maywood and other Southeast L.A. County cities selling items and living out of a car and friends' homes, said Tony Burke of the  U.S. Marshals Service.

Law enforcement officials began looking for the couple after Janet Barreto failed to appear on charges of manslaughter of a child, three counts of child abuse, six counts of child neglect and tampering with a witness.

When authorities entered the Barretos' home in Oxford, Miss., four years ago, they uncovered a den of alleged child abuse, officials said. The Barretos are suspected of traveling to Guatemala on multiple occasions to purchase children from a local adoption agency. Upon returning to the United States, the children were allegedly physically abused, malnourished and forced to sleep in deplorable conditions, including beds with plywood bottoms.

The children were allegedly punished with beatings and occasionally duct-taped to their beds, punched in the stomach and forced to endure having their heads submerged under water. In 2008, the abuse led to the death of one of their adopted children, a 2-year-old girl, authorities said.

When the girl was taken to a hospital with severe injuries, they initially told authorities in May 2008 that she had fallen from a shopping cart.

Burke said the couple in recent times has operated puppy mills in Southern California, selling dogs in the Bakersfield and Blythe areas.

“Janet Barreto is a malicious individual who allegedly abused innocent children on multiple occasions and forced them to live in appalling conditions,” said William D. Snelson, U.S. Marshals Service assistant director for investigative operations, in placing the Janet Barreto on the agency's 15 Most Wanted List.

“Through her alleged crimes, Barreto demonstrated a blatant disregard and lack of respect for life other than her own. Adopting children and bringing them to the United States only to abuse and neglect them is a horrific crime."

Janet Barreto was originally arrested in May 2008 and released in December that same year on bond. In March 2009, she was re-arrested for tampering with a witness and released on bond again. Two months later in May 2009, she failed to appear for her trial on the charges of child endangerment, child abuse and manslaughter.

Burke said the couple has ties to Mexico and is known to travel south of the border. "We believe we are within 72 hours of them, hence the command post," he said, speaking in Maywood.

A reward of up to $25,000 is offered for information leading directly to their arrest. Anyone with information is urged to contact the nearest U.S. Marshals office or the U.S. Marshals Service Communications Center at (800) 336-0102.

Janet Barreto, 37, is described as being about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing about 300 pounds; she has black hair but sometimes wear blond wigs. She is also known to use the names Victoria or Vicky. Ramon Barreto, 34, is of similar height but weighs about 140 pounds. He is also known to use the names Ramiro, Juan and Christian.

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Twitter: @lacrimes| Google+

richard.winton@latimes.com

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