Editor’s Note: Frontera NorteSur continues our special coverage of the trial of six men in Ciudad Juarez accused of sex trafficking and the mass murders women. In today’s piece, border journalist Marisela Ortega Lozano reports on testimony last week about a young woman who was allegedly lured by sex traffickers before going missing and winding up as among the victims discovered in remote, clandestine burial ground.
Several alleged victims of sex-trafficking and murder were recruited as models by a modeling and advertisement agency in downtown Juarez, whose owners reportedly created a portfolio of young women to offer them to prospective clients as prostitutes, witnesses for the prosecution testified on April 30. According to testimony, a police officer may been involved in the alleged sex-trafficking ring.
“I was told that a police officer had taken my daughter to a safe house, which was full of drugs and had several young women working there,” the mother testified.
Some of the victims in the case had responded to a modeling and escort job advertisement that was published in the PM tabloid newspaper, witnesses testified. The job applicants were required to pay a fee of $150 pesos, or about ten bucks, and show up at the agency with extra clothes.
Idaly Juache Laguna, 19, went missing on Feb. 21, 2010, after she had applied for a modeling job, posed for a photo session and recorded a television commercial with the agency. Pieces of her skull were found later in the Arroyo del Navajo, a rural area in the Valle de Juarez, southeast of the city of Juarez.
Her mother, identified only by the initials M.L.C. for safety reasons, told the court that her daughter had gone to apply for a job at the modeling agency located on Vicente Guerrero and Avenida Constitucion in downtown Juarez.
The business did not have a registered name, the mother said.
“My daughter applied in person and paid the ($150 pesos) fee that the agency required. She told me that the owner, Camilo Del Real Buendia, took some pictures of her,” the mother testified. “She wasn’t paid because (the session) was only for a hiring test.”
The mother, who broke down crying at times, testified through an audio system, and was assisted by a psychologist.
At one point, Del Real Buendia asked the teenager to put on a babydoll outfit so he could take pictures of her, but her daughter declined, the mother testified.
“Idaly told me, ‘Mom, that filthy old man (Del Real) wanted me to model in a babydoll for the camera, but I said no’,” the mother said.
Along with other unidentified young women, Juache recorded a TV commercial for El Imperial Ballroom and an auto parts business, allegedly owned by Del Real Buendia, the mother testified.
A video of the TV ad featuring Juache, which aired in 2010 on Telemundo Channel 48, was shown in court.
After the recording, Del Real Buendia, who reportedly drove a black Hummer, transported Juache and other girls to near their homes, witnesses testified. On the day she disappeared, Juache told her mother that she wanted to go back to the agency because she was missing her middle school ring.
Juache suspected she had dropped the ring while changing clothes for the photo session. She also needed to go back to the agency after Del Real Buendia reportedly called and told her she was supposed to pick up the pictures she had paid for.
The mother testified that Juache and some of the other girls felt uneasy because their photos strongly resembled Juache, who was slender and pretty. The mother testified that it was 6 p.m. and she didn’t want her daughter to go there alone. “It was dark, and I was worried for her safety,” she said.
Juache went anyway because she wanted to find her ring. That was the last time her family saw her alive, the mother testified. After her daughter failed to return home, the mother and other relatives searched for her, and they filed a missing person’s report.
“We showed fliers to people with my daughter’s photo,” the mother said. “A short, fat and blonde-haired woman, identified as Esperanza, who reportedly worked at the Hotel Verde (in downtown Juarez), said she hadn’t seen anyone who resembled my daughter. But she didn’t even bother to take a look at her picture.”
According to others that Juache’s mother and relatives interviewed, some men were seen showing Juache’s modeling portfolio to potential clients who were looking for prostitutes.
“One of the men (we interviewed) told us that some clients had declined my daughter’s services because she was too expensive,” the mother testified. Juache reportedly was seen near the Tampico Nightclub on La Paz Street, also in downtown Juarez. A man was coercing her, someone told the teenager’s mother.
But when that person tried to notify the authorities, no one answered the phone at the Chihuahua state attorney general’s offices in Juarez, the mother said. “We even went to the (official) Chihuahua Woman’s Institute in Juarez for help. They told us they couldn’t do anything,” she testified.
The suspects in Juache’s disappearance, which included several men and a woman, allegedly offered the teenager’s sexual services along downtown streets, the mother said.
Juache had plans to marry her fiancé, Ivan Sierra Regalado, who was serving time in the Cereso prison for a homicide. The mother said Sierra was scheduled to be released near the time of her daughter’s disappearance.
“(Idaly) had already picked up her wedding dress,” the mother said. “(She) was planning the reception, and how many guests she was going to invite.” The mother said Juache was a caring and loving daughter. She dropped out of high school because her family could no longer afford the tuition, and managed to get a job as a laundry service attendant.
Juache decided to give the modeling agency a try after she was laid off from her laundry job, the mother said. The daughter used to visit her boyfriend and an uncle in prison every week, the mother added.
The prosecution asked whether Juache was facing some kind of trouble before she disappeared. The mother said Juache had confided to a friend that an uncle had tried to sexually assault her. (The uncle was related by marriage to another relative.) The uncle happened to be a Juarez police officer who was killed in 2012 in Juarez, the mother testified.
Juan Luis Rodriguez Covarrubio, a detective with the missing persons unit of the state prosecutor’s office in Juarez, testified that he conducted a search of the modeling agency on Aug. 4, 2010, as part of an investigation into missing women. Armed with a search warrant, “I canvassed the premises and found a gold earring with a blue stone, some DVD’s and CD records,” Rodriguez testified.
Authorities said Del Real Buendia surrendered Juache’s ring, along with videos and job applications. Rodriguez told the court that the modeling agency, located on the upper level of a small shopping across the Benito Juarez Monument Square, did not advertise a business name. He said he did not recall seeing any cameras or a studio to produce commercials or photo sessions, he said.
Under cross examination by the defense, Rodriguez said he wasn’t sure whether the agency was a legitimate business. The defense pointed out many businesses had removed their names from public view because of the unusual violence in Juarez in 2010.
Rodriguez said he also conducted several operations to search for missing women in the downtown area. He posted fliers with Juache’s picture and characteristics, and interviewed several potential witnesses.
A panel of three female judges is presiding over the trial that continues next week. The six defendants, who denied the allegations against them, face charges of sex-trafficking and aggravated murder against several female victims. Authorities said they were unable to identify all of the victims due to their state of decomposition.
Idaly Juache’s mother testified she was so hurt by the loss of her daughter that she tried taking her own life.
“I am currently under psychiatric care and I am on medication,” the mother testified. “Some days I just lay in bed, unable to cope. They (the killers) stole half of my life.”
The mother testified that authorities recovered only two pieces of her daughter’s skull. Several members of the public who attended the April 30 hearing also cried while listening to Juache’s mother testify.
– Marisela Ortega Lozano