A federal magistrate has ordered a January trial for a woman charged with transporting women from abroad to St. Thomas to employ as sex workers. The defendant, Yohanna Gonzalez-McFarlane, recently pleaded not guilty to charges in an indictment in October.
Defendant Gonzalez-McFarlane appeared before U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller at a Nov. 27 arraignment. Because of her status as an undocumented immigrant, Gonzalez-McFarlane has been held in custody since her arrest in August.
The arrest was prompted by the actions of a Venezuelan woman who was recruited to engage in sex work on St. Thomas while working in a club in the Dominican Republic. A complaint made to relatives back home about the treatment she allegedly received at the hands of Gonzalez-McFarlane made its way to federal investigators.
At the time, the defendant was working as the manager of the Underground Nightclub on Brookman Road. The Venezuelan national used her cell phone to tell relatives how Gonzalez-McFarlane allegedly threatened to harm her after she demanded the return of her travel documents.
An official from the Federal Bureau of Investigation said an agent was dispatched to the Underground after the woman sent geospatial coordinates for the nightclub to relatives in South America.
In an affidavit, the agent said he made contact with the complainant inside the club and tried to take her outside for a talk, but was prevented from doing so by the defendant. The agent said he finally succeeded by paying Gonzalez-McFarlane an extra sum for a date away from the premises.
From his experience and knowledge of the illegal sex trade, the agent said he recognized the term “date” as a transaction involving sex for money.
Now, in a superseding indictment filed on Nov. 21, new charges have been added. The number of women allegedly transported through the British Virgin Islands to St. Thomas by Gonzalez-McFarlane increased from one to four.
Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on St. Thomas also added four counts of alien harboring. In documents filed with the District Court, investigators said two of the women were brought into the U.S. Virgin Islands in December 2018. A third was allegedly brought over from the British Virgin Islands in April and on the fourth in July.
The latest indictment includes a forfeiture provision. If Gonzalez-McFarlane is found guilty, whether upon conviction at trial or through a plea deal, prosecutors are asking that any property used in the commission of the crimes be turned over the U.S. government.
Prosecutors have listed $15,152 in cash as the specific property they would like to seize if Gonzalez-McFarlane is either found guilty or pleads guilty.
Miller set the trial date for Jan. 13, with proceedings to begin at 9 a.m.