'A case of modern day slavery': 2 Fayetteville residents arrested, charged with smuggling women and children from Honduras to NC

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Two Fayetteville residents were arrested and charged with smuggling four women and their young children from Honduras to North Carolina.

Federal agents say the investigation began when one of the women called 911 from a home in the town of Willard saying she was being held against her will and the owner of the house used a taser on her.

Court documents say means of force, threat, physical restraint and threats of physical restraint were used to get them to work.

According to the indictment, Martha Zelaya-Mejia, 37, a permanent resident of the United States, born in Honduras, and David Darnell Whitehead, 42, a United States citizen, conspired with others to smuggle the women and their minor children from Honduras, through Mexico into the United States for commercial advantage and private financial gain.

"Human smugglers, time and time again, prove they have little regard for human life. Traveling from Honduras through Mexico into the US with small children, poses immense dangers from smugglers, gangs, and cartels that are only interested in their personal financial gain," said G. Norman Acker, III, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. "This office will continue to aggressively prosecute those organizations that are operating in the Eastern District and deter criminals that choose to take advantage of those that are most vulnerable."

In order to smuggle the females into the U.S. Zelaya-Mejia, Whitehead and others involved in the conspiracy, transmitted thousands of dollars in various wire transfers from locations in the eastern parts of North Carolina to Honduras, Mexico and areas located on the U.S. - Mexican border to smugglers.

If convicted of conspiracy to smuggle, transport, and conceal aliens, Zelaya-Mejia, and Whitehead face up to a maximum imprisonment of 10 years per count, a $250,000 fine and a term of supervised release following any term of imprisonment.

If convicted of conspiracy and forced labor, the duo could face up to a maximum imprisonment of 20 years imprisonment, $250,000 fine and a term of supervised release following any term of imprisonment.

If convicted of conspiracy and money laundering, they face up to a maximum term of 20 years imprisonment, $500,000 fine and a term of supervised release following any term of imprisonment.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.