STATE—A case last year involving a sex slave scandal with underage illegal immigrants has come back to tarnish the record of former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who is now a Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Christie, who has based his campaign in part on his success as a federal prosecutor, worked a plea bargain with the operator of a Honduran sex-slave ring that allowed her to avoid prison by paying over $500,000 in back taxes in exchange for testimony to convict the Democratic mayor of a small town of corruption charges.
The crux of the scandal is that Christie used his prosecutorial discretion to look the other way on a major illegal immigrant sex-slave operation. The testimony helped convict Mayor David Della Donna of Guttenberg, and his wife, who at most had accepted $40,000 in gifts from the brothel madam, Luisa Medrano.
Medrano, in turn, had been indicted in 2005 by Christie’s office for allegedly operating a sex-slave operation out of a Union City bar and apartment in which some two dozen Honduran women, some as young as 14, were forced to live together and work in Medrano’s bars for six days a week, drinking and dancing with male patrons, as well as engaging in prostitution.
The women, forbidden to move out or travel, were severely beaten if they violated Medrano’s house rules that forced them to turn over $500 a week to her from their activities at the bars, according to published reports.
According to media accounts, the sex slaves were forced to have abortions. In one case in which a trafficked women gave birth, her newborn died hours later after her captors allegedly tried to stuff the baby down the toilet.
A criminal complaint filed July 18, 2005 by Christie’s office in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, stating that in or about January 2005, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators began an investigation into whether certain Honduran females, some of whom were juveniles, were being smuggled into the U.S. and coerced into working in several bars in the Union City area.
The criminal complaint further asserts ICE agents interviewed a confidential Honduran national source who says he had visited a Medrano-owned bar where he was approached by his cousin, a 14-year-old Honduran female.
According to the criminal complaint, the young woman told the confidential informant that she had been smuggled into the U.S. with the promise of employment in a restaurant and brought to Union City, where she had been forced to work until her smuggling fee had been paid.
The criminal complaint further specified that ICE raids on two Medrano apartments in 2005 found 19 young Honduran females, some of whom were juveniles, living there. The Honduran illegal immigrants were being forced to work as prostitutes in three Medrano-operated bars until their smuggling debts had been paid in full.
A plea agreement between Medrano and Christie’s office, filed with the court Sept. 12, 2006, indicates Medrano faced decades in prison plus substantial monetary fines if convicted on all counts at trial under federal criminal statutes.
Under terms of the plea deal, Christie’s office agreed to allow Medrano to pay approximately $500,000 in back taxes without having to serve any jail time.
In exchange, Medrano testified she had given Mayor Della Donna and his wife gifts and cash in exchange for favors, including fixing code violation tickets and preventing the Alcohol Beverage Control board from closing her bar.
In April 2008, a federal judge sentenced Della Donna and his wife each to four years and three months in federal prison. The two were convicted of tax evasion for failing to report about $30,000 in income and of conspiracy to commit extortion by pocketing over $40,000 cash and gifts from Medrano between 2001 and 2005, in exchange for official favors.
Medrano was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano in January to three years probation with six months home confinement after pleading guilty to harboring women and girls, some as young as 14, who were smuggled to Hudson County from Honduras and were beaten, sexually abused, and forced to have abortions by their handlers.
Under the terms of the probation, Medrano is allowed to work at a restaurant she owns while confined to her home, reports said.
Christie’s campaign did not comment on the plea bargain.