Madera cops bust human trafficking operation

FRESNO, Calif.

Police Commander Dino Lawson said the women were kept under the control of several handlers. "Individuals from Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador involved in this ring they actually held the females against their will they were guarded 24 hours a day."

Five suspects were taken into custody at the home in Madera and at an apartment in Fresno. The suspects, two men and three women are charged with human trafficking and prostitution.

Both local and federal agents were involved in the bust. The eight women freed in the raids have been placed in protective custody.

Lawson said in addition to being watched, the women were coerced into working because of threats to their families. "They were told their families in El Salvador or Mexico would be harmed or killed if they didn't cooperate."

Lawson says the women were transported up and down the state, staying in different rented houses or apartments for a week at a time. Their handlers got their customers, by picking a specific clientele. "To solicit business they would go to local swap meets and hand out business cards."

Authorities are still looking for the alleged ringleader of this operation. He's identified as Antonio Moza. He fled his Fresno home just before law enforcement officers arrived.

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