Published On: Sat, Aug 10th, 2019

ICE and Homeland Security arrest Yohanna Gonzalez-McFarlane for smuggling women across US as prostitutes

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, working jointly with the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) arrested a Dominican national Wednesday for crimes related to alien smuggling and prostitution scheme.

photo/ Sammis Reachers

According to court documents unsealed Thursday, between December 2018 and August 2019, Yohanna Gonzalez-McFarlane, 38, of the Dominican Republic, operated the Underground Nightclub in St. Thomas. She recruited young foreign women and arranged to have them smuggled into the U.S. Virgin Islands to engage in prostitution while working at the bar. Gonzalez-McFarlane then housed the women at a residence in St. Thomas and required them to engage in commercial sex at the defendant’s nightclub to repay their smuggling debts.

“Allegedly, this woman had a business of smuggling young women purely for profit and used intimidation and abuse to force her victims to participate in sexual acts,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge for HSI San Juan. “The number of times women were victimized to support her criminal activity is reprehensible. The safety and well-being of the victims comes first, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in ensuring these criminal organizations cease to victimize for revenue.”

Gonzalez-McFarlane’s activities came to law enforcement’s attention when one of the women originally from Venezuela secretly reported the conditions of her treatment to her family via text messages and calls. The young woman’s family members in turn contacted the VIPD. According to court documents, the young woman sent messages indicating that she was forced to engage in prostitution and was in fear of physical danger.

The charging document also indicates that the FBI conducted a recovery operation and rescued the young woman from the bar. An FBI agent posing as a bar patron, negotiated with Gonzales-McFarlane to obtain a “date” with the young woman away from the premises of the bar. As a result, the young woman was able to escape.

Court documents also describe threats allegedly made by Gonzalez-McFarlane and others at the bar to kill another one of the young foreign women forced to work there and to burn one of the women’s passports.

HSI enforces a wide range of crimes related to border security, including investigations of human smuggling and human trafficking. In fact, HSI is one of the primary federal agencies responsible for combating human trafficking. The agency accomplishes this mission by making full use of its authorities and expertise, stripping away assets and profit incentive, collaborating with U.S. and foreign partners to attack networks worldwide and working in partnership with nongovernmental organizations to identify, rescue and aid trafficking victims. HSI recognizes that to successfully investigate and prosecute traffickers, victims must be stable and free from fear and intimidation to be effective witnesses. Equal value is placed on the identification and rescue of victims and the prosecution of traffickers. ICE has more than 350 collateral duty victim/witness coordinators who work with NGOs to assist in the provision of victim services. Short-term immigration relief is provided to certified victims of trafficking in the form of continued presence status.

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