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Chula Vista house was part of a countrywide begging scheme   

Members of the Imperial Valley Ministries in El Centro were involved in a five-year-long, forced-labor scheme  where many of the victims were homeless, some as young as 17. Dozens of victims were enticed with the promise of food and shelter, as revealed in recent federal indictments against ministry leaders and members. 

Imperial Valley Ministries (IVM) has 30 affiliated churches throughout the United States. As noted in the indictment, one ministry branch was located in the 500 block of Jefferson Avenue in Chula Vista. 

Jose Gaytan and Sonia Murillo were home directors at the Chula Vista ministry residence.  Both also were involved with running the El Centro residence the church used. The two defendants admitted they knew it was illegal to threaten the victims; warning them if they didn’t panhandle “on behalf of IVM they would suffer serious psychological, financial, or reputational harm.”  Other members of the ministry are awaiting trial.

It was revealed in court documents that church members imprisoned the victims when they weren’t working as panhandlers on the streets. The IVM homes were locked by deadbolts and only IVM church members could unlock them

An expert on begging and forced-labor activities, Marisa Ugarte, Executive Director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, was tracking the work of the federal task force, which she says broke the back of the cruel scheme.

Ugarte says the ministry members “locked windows, they locked doors. You are restraining people from leaving so they can’t escape. This is part of human trafficking. It’s a violation of human rights.”

The victims were told if they didn’t beg, they had no place to sleep nor food to eat. Part of the scheme involved taking EBT food stamp cards from the homeless men and women and selling them to make money for the ministry. Their identification papers and personal belongings were also taken from them.  

Some victims were denied medical treatment, the indictment alleged, including a diabetic who was refused her medicine and food but managed to escape and contact the authorities  

All the alleged victims have been identified and support services have been made available for them.

This is not a new form of trafficking. There are numerous ways innocents have been victimized for years by labor trafficking says Ugarte. “Other organizations like the one in Chula Vista also use begging; panhandling on street corners or shopping centers” to raise money by employing “force, fraud, or coercion.”  These are similar characteristics as used in sex trafficking, she notes.

Ugarte  points out more than 21 million people are victims of forced labor across the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), based in Geneva, Switzerland.   Anne Hoiberg, President of the BSCC board, notes that Ugarte has been involved in fighting all forms of trafficking for years. In her efforts, “she has been a visionary, warning of the dangers well before they became a widely known crime.” Hoiberg continued, “Marisa never gives up, speaking out while rescuing victims and providing shelter.”

Front of Imperial Valley Ministries Church
— credit–(Google Maps)
El Centro residence the church used.
— credit–(Google Maps)

Aerial view of back of residence the church used in Chula Vista, CA
— credit–(Google Maps)

Below you will find two court documents of Gaytan and Murillo pleading guilty of their charges.

JW August, Communications Director for the BSCC

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Saved in America Exposed

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A  news story posting on a local television station website features Pastor Joseph Travers of Saved in America.  He has received a lot of positive news coverage for his “rescue” efforts all across the United States. This recent NBC7 story contradicts much of what the pastor claims.

Please consider the NBC report before you give money to Saved in America.

Full disclosure: the  NBC7 story was produced by BSCC Communications Director JW August.  

It is one news story that the Pastor will not be posting on his own website.

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STOLEN: A Year-long Investigation Into Child Sex Trafficking & Exploitation

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On August 20, 2020, NBC San Diego debuts “STOLEN,” an expansive documentary series about the sex trafficking and exploitation of children in San Diego County.

Told from the perspective of survivors, victims, pimps and customers, STOLEN dives into the dark underworld of San Diego County’s sex trafficking industry while chronicling the strength of survivors and their families as they struggle to break the chains and scars left from sex trafficking.

The seven-episode documentary series is the product of a year-long investigation that includes exclusive interviews and, for the first time ever, substantial proof of the scope of the problem in San Diego County schools.

Throughout the ground-breaking documentary, survivors share their personal stories and reveal the risk factors and warning signs every parent should know.Watch the full series on August 20, 2020.#notinourbackyard

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Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained a shipment of wigs and other human hair products suspected of being made through forced labor in Xinjian, China. BSCC’s executive director Marisa Ugarte says this case is still another example of “a growing awareness of labor trafficking taking place” across the globe, including in the United States.  “Labor trafficking is a difficult crime to track and prove” says Ugarte.  

The seizure was made by CBP officials at the Port of New York; the agency saying it had strong evidence linking the products to forced labor camps. Women survivors from these camps reported their heads were shaved when they were admitted into the camps.  For some time there have been stories circulating of the Chinese government creating forced labor camps as part of an effort to subjugate over a million Muslim ethnic minorities.

The company will be given an opportunity to prove the wigs are not the product of forced labor.  But for now, they are being held by the CBP.

The agency had suspected this sort of shipment was going to enter the US.  In mid-June the agency released a warning:. It said in part “all U.S. ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will detain imported merchandise made wholly or in part with hair products produced by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd. (Meixin) in Xinjiang, China”

Follow this link for more details:

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The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition is pleased to introduce its newest intern, Jany Huynch.  Ms. Huynch is currently attending the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in San Marcos.

Her goal is to become an occupational therapist in inpatient acute care. In this role, she hopes to develop programs for organizations, like the BSCC, to help survivors of human trafficking transition back to the community.

While volunteering, Jany is working on a new BSCC program that parrots her own long-term dream.   She is a member of a team working to create a sustainable victim-focused program to help victims leave the “life.” The BSCC recognizes her goal is admirable, delving into an area that is often overlooked and underfunded.   Helping clients become fully functioning members of our society is a key element of any successful program.   We welcome her to our team!

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