Despite the objections of Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl Lyn Vidal, convicted human trafficker Estela Gonzalez, 64, was fined Tuesday instead of confined for the crime which carried a sentence of 8 years. As Justice Adolph Lucas imposed fines totaling $74,108 on Gonzalez, representatives of her employer Raul Magaña slipped out of Court to pay it, in full.
Gonzalez was convicted for bringing a fifteen-year-old girl from Honduras in 2013 and employing her at the well known strip club and brothel Temptation Bar, located at Mile 10 on the George Price Highway. During the trial which concluded on February 10th, the girl testified that Gonzalez made her have sex with different men on three occasions, paying her $25.
As a direct fine for the offence of Trafficking in Humans, Justice Lucas imposed a fine of $30,000. As restitution to the Department of Human Services which has been custodian of the victim and will be until she is 18, Lucas tacked on an additional $28,520. He claimed that he came up with that figure based on a statement of expenses submitted by the Department. While he claimed he had some difficulty quantifying the suffering of the child while forced to work at Temptation Hill, Lucas did, and ordered Gonzalez to pay the victim $15,000, plus $588 for wages lost.
The case is notable because it is the first for Human Trafficking tried at the Supreme Court level. It is also notable in that the Judge used his discretion to apply a fine, rather than confinement for a crime of that nature. Lucas prefaced his decision with an explanation, telling the Court that he had heard pleas of mitigation from Gonzalez’s attorney Ellis Arnold, as well as doctors Fernando Cuellar and Javier Novelo.
The learned Justice stated that while the crime is serious and he cannot downplay the suffering of the victim, he was swayed by the testimony of the doctors who had been treating Gonzalez since 2012 for high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and a urinary tract infection. Those illnesses, according to the testimony, had resulted in the early stages of kidney disease, treatment of which would not be possible at the Belize Central Prison.
The decision by the Supreme Court takes on added weight against the backdrop of the July 2015 blacklisting by the US. Belize has been downgraded to Tier Three on the human trafficking watch-list, accompanied with the stinging indictment that, “The Government of Belize does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.