Four Flagstaff family members who ran the wedding boutique “I Do! I Do!” were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of committing the serious abrogation of human trafficking crimes for almost a decade, reports The Arizona Republic.
According to an indictment by federal prosecutors, the McReynolds family - consisting of Huong Thi “Kelly” McReynolds, 58; James Hartful McReynolds, 60; Joseph Minh McReynolds, 36; and Vincent Minh McReynolds, 32 - allegedly lured females from Vietnam with promises of marriage and a life in the United States. What their victims found, however, were nightmarish conditions working 11 hours a day, seven days a week for the family for little-to-no money. Three of the suspects also allegedly married their victims in order to evade immigration laws.
Authorities have taken to calling it a case of “modern day slavery,” and the alleged traffickers are facing several federal charges of forced labor, violation of fair labor standards act, and marriage fraud conspiracy, among others.
According to federal law, a person is guilty of forced labor by threatening serious harm or physical restraint in order to obtain the labor or service of a person.
“It’s really an example of the worst kind of trafficking you can get … people who thought they were coming to the United States to achieve the American dream,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Matt Allen told The Republic.
The case is especially unusual since most trafficking cases prosecuted in the United States involve forcing women into prostitution and even these cases are rare - only 36 cases were submitted for prosecution under Arizona’s human-trafficking statutes in the past six years, reports The Republic.
The use of scare tactics to keep their workers in submission is common among traffickers, however, and may prevent many victims from going to the police. The McReynolds kept a tight rein on their victims and threatened them with deportation, even going so far as to file unsubstantiated and misleading reports with Flagstaff police.
However, Allen told The Republic that immigration officials can offer temporary and permanent visas to victims, stating that rescuing victims is the agency’s first priority.
Federal officials have refused to allow the Flagstaff family’s reign over human trafficking crimes from ruining additional lives, however; U.S. Marshalls have temporarily taken over the wedding boutique in order to make sure customers are still getting their dresses and tuxedos, reports azfamily.com.
- Find a Phoenix Criminal Law Attorney (FindLaw)
- 4 Arrests in Forced Labor Case at Flagstaff Wedding Boutique (Arizona Daily Sun)
- Cecilia Chang Charged: Students Used as Slaves? (FindLaw’s Blotter)
- Human Trafficking and the Child Protection Compact Act of 2009 (FindLaw’s Writ)
- Involuntary Servitude (FindLaw’s LawBrain)