Alleged smuggler, sex trafficker denied bond

Esthela M. Clark accused of coercing young woman from Mexico to travel to US

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 46-year-old Jacksonville woman accused of smuggling a young woman from Mexico into the U.S. on the pretense that she would be paid to be a surrogate mother is being considered a flight risk by a federal judge and denied bond.

Esthela M. Clark, 46, was charged with alien smuggling, labor trafficking and sex trafficking offenses.

Clark induced the young woman to travel illegally to the U.S. under the fraudulent promise and pretense that the woman would be paid to be a surrogate mother as part of a medically supervised and lawful surrogate pregnancy, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Clark, who lived on the Arlington Expressway, isolated the young woman and confiscated her identification.

Over the course of two years, in Jacksonville and Missouri, they said Clark attempted various means of non-medical insemination of the woman, who wasn't identified in the indictment, using a household syringe on the dining room floor using her boyfriend and others' semen. When their efforts failed, they say Clark forced her to have sex with strangers.

The Department of Justice said they were trying to impregnate the woman so they could sell her baby.

Clark used force, threats of force and also threatened abuse of the legal process to keep the woman in a perpetual state of involuntary servitude and forced labor, U.S. attorneys said.

A concerned citizen rescued the young woman and contacted law enforcement, according to U.S. attorneys. Clark was arrested by U.S. customs agents on June 11.

Unfortunately Clark's story is not uncommon. Throughout the U.S. young women are being forced into the growing epidemic of sex trafficking. Women like Alyssa Beck, who was kidnapped into the sex trade, hope to help other girls who may be suffering the same fate.

About five years ago, Beck was a 15-year-old on the streets of Jacksonville until she was kidnapped into the sex trade.   

"I was the person people came to if they had a rough day at work or they were just having a rough whatever. And they took it out on me, whether they wanted to hit me, whether they wanted to have sex, whatever they wanted to do, that's what I had to do," Beck said. 

Months went by and Beck begged her captive to kill her, until she was able to get away.

"We got to the hotel and he had to go in and get a room key and when he did, I ran. I ran as fast as I could down Arlington Expressway, beaten, broken, bruised and hopped into some bushes and got found by somebody," Beck said. 

Beck now works for Rethreaded, a Jacksonville non-profit that offers viable work to women affected by prostitution, pornography, drug addiction and human trafficking. 

Women who have escaped the sex trade can learn how to sew and make things like necklaces, grace scarves and headbands. It gives women employment and freedom and allows them to start a new life.

"I believe that it takes a community of people to get a woman into the sex trade and keep her there, but then it takes a community of people to get her out and pave the way for freedom," Beck said.

Attorney Mike Freed also helps combat human trafficking in Florida, which he said ranks second in the nation in sex trafficking, and said it's more prevalent in Jacksonville because of the city's proximity to highways, ports, borders, and airports, and cases often go unreported.

Prosecutors said the young woman Clark kidnapped was a prime target and what she suffered through, losing 65 pounds and being constantly beaten, was par for the course.

"In this case, obviously someone who's here illegally and feeling very vulnerable because they don't speak the language and they're afraid of being deported, they participate in activities against their will and they don't feel they have ready access to law enforcement or someone to help get them out of that situation," Freed said.

Fortunately a friend at Celebration Church called police, and may have saved her life.

"Honestly it's not really surprising. I've seen stuff like it before and it's sad and I just hope that woman can find peace," Beck said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi convened a meeting Thursday of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. The council includes law enforcement officers, legislators, prosecutors and experts in health, education and social services who collaborate in an effort to stop human trafficking cases like these two.

If convicted on all counts, Clark faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison. The indictment also notifies Clark that the U.S. intends to require her to forfeit two motor vehicles, which are alleged to have been used in the offenses, U.S. attorneys said.