7 charged in Mexico with child trafficking

Date: 2005-11-26

Group allegedly sold babies in U.S.

By Anna Cearley

TIJUANA – Baja California authorities have filed child-trafficking charges against seven people for their alleged participation in a cross-border adoption scheme involving Mexican babies.

Mexican authorities said the group was behind the trafficking of at least five babies or young children, four of whom ended up in the United States. It's unclear whether the fifth child, who was brought to Tijuana from the south of Mexico, was destined for the United States.

One of the suspects is a U.S. citizen identified as David Rivera of New Jersey. Mexican authorities said another suspect, Oriela Marisol Valenzuela Sanchez, was the mother of two children who ended up in the United States.

Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said U.S. police agencies are trying to locate three of the children after Mexican authorities shared information on where they may be in Florida and Virginia. U.S. authorities were awaiting additional information to track down other children.

"It appears they were being sold in the United States, and it looks like there was an illegal human-smuggling element," Mack said. "There is no evidence of this being sex trafficking or sexual abuse."

The scheme came to light last week, when two of the suspects allegedly offered a man in Tijuana $5,000 and a rent-free apartment for a year in exchange for his son, said Rogelio Contreras, a spokesman with the Baja California Attorney General's Office.

"The man said he would have to think about it, and instead he went to the city police and told them about this," Contreras said.

The ensuing investigation in Tijuana and Tecate resulted in a series of arrests that continued through yesterday, Contreras said.

Legal foreign adoptions from Mexico are possible, but they aren't as common as in other countries, such as China. In Tijuana, U.S. immigration and citizenship authorities scrutinize legal adoptions before the child leaves for the United States.

In previously documented cases of illegal adoptions, Mexican attorneys offered money to financially struggling pregnant women to hand over their babies after giving birth. The attorneys then charged foreigners interested in adopting a baby as much as $22,000 to make arrangements.

Details are sketchy as to the exact involvement or role played by the seven people charged this week. Two of the suspects, including the U.S. citizen Rivera, allegedly offered $1,000 to other suspects to find children, according to Mexican authorities.

The cases documented by Mexican authorities include:

A 2-month-old boy who ended up in Miami, and a 1-year-old girl sent to Virginia. Both were identified as Valenzuela's children.

A 15-month-old boy who was sent to New York.

A boy, age unknown, who went to Miami.

A newborn girl who was brought from the state of Michoacan and given to people in Tijuana.

Mack said it's still unclear how the scheme worked north of the border, and whether the people who ultimately obtained the babies realized they were adopting the children illegally.

Mexican authorities identified the suspects as: Sinai Higuera Abundez of Mulege, Baja California Sur; David Rivera of New Jersey; Jose Luis Almaguer Campos, of Mexico City; Oriela Marisol Valenzuela Sanchez, of Guasave, Sinaloa; Cesar Ernesto Mejia Gonzalez, of Ensenada; Margarita Ramos Rojas, of Chihuahua, in the state of Chihuahua; and Ana Isabel Acosta Baez, of Culiacan, Sinaloa.

They won't be permitted to post bail because of the severity of the charges, Mexican authorities said, and they could each face up to 12 years in prison. Contreras said it's unclear how long the group was operating. He said the investigation is ongoing to see if more people and children were involved.

Anna Cearley: (619) 542-4595; anna.cearley@uniontrib.com


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