Tarrant County

Girl, 15, Forced to Work at Southlake Restaurant to Pay $10,000 Smuggling Debt: Sheriff

A 15-year-old Guatemalan girl was rescued after she was forced to work the night shift at a Southlake fast food restaurant to pay off a $10,000 debt to her smugglers, authorities said Tuesday.

"We are going to protect her and nobody is going to hurt her and I got to tell you, in a cop's life, that's a big deal," Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said. "That's a pretty big day."

Officers with the sheriff's human trafficking unit arrested Cesar Valdez-Perez, 36, who faces charges of child trafficking and forging government documents.

"He initially wanted to claim that he was the father," Waybourn said. "We suspect he is not. We suspect he's part of something bigger."

The sheriff said the girl worked seven or eight hours a day and that Valdez-Perez picked her up and dropped her off.

"Obviously this young lady has been traumatized," he said. "She's in appropriate authorities' hands here in the United States. She's being treated very, very well at the moment and she is being taken care of."

The restaurant where the girl worked was not suspected of any wrongdoing and believed she was older and an American citizen.

"They were well-done forged documents," he said.

Waybourn said the message is clear.

"We're not going to tolerate people doing this to children in Tarrant County and we're going to go after them with the gust of a hound dog when we do."

Valdez-Perez bonded out of the Tarrant County jail, but was immediately taken into custody by federal immigration agents.

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