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Dominican Republic native agrees to plead guilty to human trafficking | News

ST. THOMAS — A woman who lured poor women from other countries to St. Thomas in a long-running human trafficking operation is facing a minimum of five years in prison after signing a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.


Ramona Rivera Luna, 65, also known as “Clara,” was arrested in October 2020 and indicted on 22 charges, including six counts of transporting for prostitution, seven counts of bringing illegal aliens to the United States for financial gain, and nine counts of alien harboring for financial gain.


She has agreed to plead guilty to four counts — one count of transporting for prostitution, and three counts of bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, according to the plea agreement filed Thursday.

 

Under applicable sentencing guidelines, Luna is likely to face between around five to seven years in prison at sentencing, and has agreed to serve a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.


Under the plea agreement, Luna is subject to a fine of between $25,000 and $250,000, and prosecutors said they will recommend she serve a 10-year term of supervised release.


She has also agreed to make restitution to eight victims, totaling more than $1 million.


The restitution was broken down by victim, and the bulk of that amount, $459,398, goes to Jane Doe 1. Jane Doe 2’s restitution amount is $211,016, Jane Doe 3’s total $174,004, with the rest of the victims receiving lower restitution amounts for their calculated losses as defined by federal law.


While the charges in the plea agreement apply to only a few of those women, Luna has agreed that restitution is due to all of the victims identified by the investigation.


Prosecutors also said there are also additional victims who have not identified or located by .


“Text messages in her cellphone reveal that the Defendant is responsible for transporting other, unidentified women for the purpose of prostitution and that her offense involved more than ten victims,” according to the plea agreement.

 

A citizen of the Dominican Republic who is a legal U.S. resident, Luna ran an international human trafficking operation in which she lured women from her native country as well as from Venezuela and forced them into sex work at her Contant brothel, according to court records.


Luna told investigators she has been running The Embers Guest House at 124 Contant for the last 15 years, according to an affidavit filed by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, who said they’re being assisted “by several different federal agencies.”


Luna arranged for women to be smuggled into the country, and coerced them to engage in commercial sex acts in order to pay off their smuggling debts, according to court records. Prosecutors said she also charged them rent for their rooms at The Embers, but forbade them from leaving.


Federal agents executed a search warrant at the guest house in November 2020 and rescued seven women, including some who said they’d been trying for years to escape their supposed debts to Luna through forced prostitution, and expressed “terror” that she would retaliate and harm their families.


Luna coerced two of her own relatives into sex work and “recruited one woman she knew personally who had been working as a nanny in the Dominican Republic but who was convinced by the defendant that she could make far more money working at the defendant’s bar,” according to a motion filed by prosecutors.


“The woman had never previously worked as a prostitute and was horrified to find herself in a foreign country, where she knew no one but the defendant, being forced to engage in commercial sex,” according to prosecutors.


“One woman reported having eight to ten clients a night, yet was still unable to pay off her original $8,000 smuggling debt for two years. Another woman reported that even when she finally paid the defendant back the original debt owed, the defendant changed the amount, claiming that the woman owed a higher amount.”


Another woman, Yohanna Gonzalez-McFarlane, admitted to running a similar human trafficking operation at the Underground Nightclub on Brookman Road. She was sentenced in February to six-and-a-half years in prison, and was ordered to pay $942,007 in restitution to her victims.


Federal and local officers raided that club on Aug. 7, 2019, and found victims who said Gonzalez-McFarlane threatened them and told them she “had connections with the police.” They also said she’d taken their passports and kept them captive in a cramped apartment.


Molloy said that one of the 12 victims identified in the case was only 17 when she was recruited, and she and seven other victims were foreign nationals smuggled into the country by McFarlane — who then informed them that they must have sex with men in order to repay her for their travel costs.

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original location.

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ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.

ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.