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Feb 26, 2007

Three police officers busted in human trafficking ring

Story PictureTonight the Belize Police Department is reeling from the arrest of three officers accused in a sordid story of human trafficking and sexual assault. The drama unfolded in the early morning hours of Saturday at a lonely checkpoint on the Northern Highway, but as I found out today, this case could have far reaching implications for law enforcement as we know it.

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
This afternoon Police Constables twenty-four year olds Lauren Flowers and Allyson Muslar were taken to Belize City Magistrate Court where they were arraigned on charges of trafficking in persons. Flowers and Muslar were arrested after authorities found eight Hispanic persons, believed to be from Honduras and El Salvador, in a van driven at the time by Flowers.

At a press conference this morning, Police Commissioner Gerald Westby says investigations into the incident have revealed that the illegal immigrants were smuggled into the country last Friday through the Western border. But it wasn’t until two the following morning that the group was discovered at a special check point set up between miles seventy and seventy-one on the Northern Highway.

Gerald Westby, Police Commissioner
“The intercepted a Camry car driven by police constable #781 Lauren flowers and shortly after a Mazda van driven by P.C #446 Allyson Muslar. Clearly the car was the lead scout vehicle and the van in the rear had in eight passengers; six Salvadorans and two Hondurans, if I am correct, including three minors.

“P.C. Allyson Muslar, he is a constable at special branch, has been charged with eight counts of human trafficking and three counts of transporting children under the trafficking in persons act. P.C. Lauren Flowers who was in the lead vehicle has been charged with one count of assisting Allyson Muslar in the transportation of eight illegal immigrants under the trafficking in Persons Act. Additionally, Allyson Muslar has been charged under the Immigration Act, by immigration, with one count of purportedly aiding and abetting of human smuggling under the Immigration Act. Similarly the I.A.D. has charged Muslar under the Police Act with eight counts of prejudice to good order and discipline and Flowers was charged with two counts of prejudice to good order and discipline.”

Authorities believe that the human smuggling and trafficking has been going on for quite sometime. But it was only recently that the police started monitoring one of the officers involved after his name surfaced during the recent apprehension of a suspected drug dealer.

Gerald Westby
“P.C. Muslar I must say that when we apprehended Mark Sewell, only recently, his name came up as on some documents found with Muslar as one of his colluder or working along with Muslar, so he was being monitored.”

“I must emphasize that there are many good immigration officers, there are many good policemen but definitely some immigration and some policemen are involved because money is involved.”

And that reality indicates that the double arrest may be the beginning of one of the biggest scandals to hit law enforcement agencies in Belize.

Gerald Westby
“The illegal trafficking, smuggling and human trafficking is a major business coming from Central America through Belize onto Mexico and onto the United States. We understand form intelligence that it costs a minimum of a thousand, five hundred dollars for a person to be moved. They are coming from the west up to the north and then onto Mexico. The investigation is still fluid, very much ongoing, and we suspect that some policemen at these check points are colluding with these traffickers because they need to pass these checkpoints and who knows if there will not be additional charges.”

According to Director Horace Guzman, the immigration department is also doing its own investigation to address the overall problem.

Horace Guzman, Director, Immigration Department, Belize City
“To tell them that this situation is very serious, it is being monitored by the police department and wherever the axe may fall, which ever officer is involved, they will have to take the brunt of it.”

No charges are expected to be levied against the eight illegal immigrants who are believed to be trying to make their way to the United States. According to Human Services Executive Director Ava Pennil, the detainees are considered victims under the Trafficking In Persons Act.

Ava Pennil, Executive Director, Human Services Department
“So we currently have the eight persons; we are working together still with the police but the eight persons will be offered protection and all the necessary support services as stated in the law. They are comfortable now and I think the level of trust with them is quite high.”

Ladyville Police Constable Flowers has been with the department five years while Belize City Special Branch Police Constable Muslar has been an officer with four years.

Equally disturbing news today involves the arrest of another police constable, twenty-nine year old Hersel Garcia, in connection with the same incident. Garcia is the officer positively identified as the man who not only stole money from the illegal immigrants but sexually assaulted four of the women, one only fifteen years old, when the van was stopped at the Burrell Boom police check point. Police say around twelve-thirty Saturday morning, Ladyville P.C Garcia was the only person working at the police booth at the time.

Inspector Calbert Flowers, O.C Internal Affairs, Eastern Division
“They reported that the police officer took them inside a small booth or a small house and conducted searches on them. The four females reported that this officer had tem strip of their clothes and began to fondle them. Two of the male immigrants reported that this officer stole some monies from them. I need to add that these females were taken before a doctor to be examined, which was done in Corozal.”

Jacqueline Godwin
“Do you have the results?”

Inspector Calbert Flowers
“Yes, we have the results of that. The doctor certified that yes these females were indeed assaulted. One of the persons reported that seventy-five U.S. was taken away form him and the other reported that fifty dollars U.S. was taken away from him. As a result P.C. Garcia was arrested and charged for four counts of indecent assault and two counts of theft.”

Today police commissioner Westby spoke out against the actions of his police officers.

Gerald Westby
“We want to send a strong message that we will not tolerate policemen and law enforcement on a whole involved and facilitating illegal trafficking.”

But while the Commissioner has promised to treat the case like any other, colleagues of the accused officers went to great lengths to protect their own from the media’s cameras as Muslar, Flowers and Garcia were quickly shuttled through the front entrance of the Queen Street Police Station and whisked away by vehicle to the Magistrate court. It would take great team work by our cameramen to get the shot of the day.

According to court reports, Muslar and Flowers were granted and met bail of ten thousand dollars or two sureties of the same amount. They have been ordered to return to court on March twenty-ninth. As for Hershel Garcia, tonight he is also out on bail of seven thousand dollars. His case will be heard on March thirtieth.

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