Yohanna Gonzalez-McFarlane, 38, of the Dominican Republic, who operated the Underground Nightclub on St. Thomas, was arrested Wednesday and charged with one count of harboring an alien for financial gain and one count of interstate transportation for prostitution.
A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the U.S. Virgin Islands said court documents unsealed Thursday shows that:
– Between at least December 2018 and August 2019, Gonzalez-McFarlane operated the Underground Nightclub in St. Thomas.
– She recruited young foreign women and arranged to have them smuggled into the U.S. Virgin Islands to engage in prostitution while working at the bar.
– The defendant housed the women at a residence on St. Thomas and required them to engage in commercial sex at the defendant’s nightclub to repay their smuggling debts.
According to court documents, the defendant’s activities came to law enforcement’s attention when one of the women originally from Venezuela secretly reported the conditions of her treatment to her family via text messages and calls. The young woman’s family members contacted the V.I. Police Department. According to court documents, the young woman sent messages indicating that she was forced to engage in prostitution and was in fear of physical danger.
Court documents also indicate that the FBI conducted a recovery operation and rescued the young woman from the bar. An FBI agent, posing as a bar patron, negotiated with defendant Gonzales-McFarlane to obtain a “date” with the young woman, away from the premises of the bar. As a result, the young woman was able to escape.
Court documents also describe threats allegedly made by the defendant and others at the bar to kill another one of the young foreign women forced to work there and to burn one of the women’s passports.
U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division pointed out that at this point in the legal process the charges are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI, and supported by Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and VIPD. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Edwards for the District of the Virgin Islands.