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    Alleged Cuban smuggler pleads guilty to sex trafficking

    Alleged Cuban smuggler pleads guilty to sex trafficking
    BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
    ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

    This was the premise of a case involving a Cuban resident in Miami
    accused of illegally bringing women from the island and forcing them
    into sex slavery in the United States. Silvio Clark Morales, 31, plead
    guilty in federal court Thursday to 7 of the 19 charges against him.

    Facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, Morales agreed to a plea
    deal and is now looking at a possible 30-year prison sentence.

    With his head down and tears streaming down his face, Morales, who had
    initially entered a not guilty plea, said that the allegations laid out
    by prosecutor Benjamin Widlanski during the hearing were true.

    Judge José E. Martinez is expected to render a final judgment in June.

    This is the first known criminal case involving Cuban women brought to
    the United States for sexual exploitation.

    Morales, AKA “Jander” and “Silvito,” was arrested in September.
    According to the prosecution, the defendant offered his Cuban female
    victims a trip to the United States and a job as dancers in Miami in
    exchange for paying $20,000 — the alleged cost for bringing them
    illegally from the island through Mexico. Once in the United States, the
    accused increased their debt to $55,000 and forced them to work as
    strippers and prostitute themselves, according to court documents.

    Most of the women, like Morales, are from Camagüey province in eastern
    Cuba. They left the island in 2015 and 2016.

    The legal documents in the case, first reported by Univisión 23, a news
    partner of el Nuevo Herald, indicate that Morales did not work alone and
    moved easily between Florida and Cuba, and perhaps Mexico and Central
    America as well.

    In the criminal complaint, several of the victims reported violent
    episodes in which they were threatened and beaten by Morales or he
    threatened to hurt relatives in Cuba if they tried to flee.

    In at least one case, Morales personally traveled to Cuba to pick up the
    alleged victim and transport her off the island by boat.

    Authorities rescued four of the women between the ages of 21 and 25 in
    September, according to federal court documents.

    The complaint includes a total of six female victims. None testified in
    court.

    Statements from an alleged Morales partner, who spoke on condition of
    anonymity with Univisión 23, pointed out that he did not act alone and
    could be a member of a smuggling network that included more people. But
    the defendant’s lawyer, Stewart Glenn Abrams, told el Nuevo Herald that
    the plea agreement with the prosecution did not require Morales’ help in
    investigating other cases.

    Previously, Martínez had denied Morales’ request to seek another defense
    attorney as well as the lawyer’s request to recuse himself from the
    case. In a letter written in English to the judge and dated March 6, the
    defendant wrote that “since the day of my arrest, I have been completely
    in the dark as to my position in this matter and my rights due to me to
    defend myself .” He also said he did not speak English and could not get
    useful information from his lawyer, whose only advice was allegedly to
    “sign a plea deal for 30 years” because the government “has witnesses.”

    In response to Morales’ letter, his lawyer stated that the charges could
    result in a prison sentence of as much 149 years if Morales was found
    guilty of one of six offenses related to the sex trafficking of women
    and the rest of the charges.

    Morales, who studied in Havana to become a high school teacher and who
    is not a U.S. citizen, now also faces the possibility of deportation.

    Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter:@ngameztorres

    Source: Alleged Cuban smuggler pleads guilty to sex trafficking | Miami
    Herald –
    www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article143160334.html

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