Captivity suspect accepts plea deal

Rubi Bertaud-Cabrera

After weeks of alleged enslavement and then months under federal supervision, a woman whom authorities deemed a victim of the illegal sex trade soon will return home to Mexico.

The North Charleston woman arrested in connection with the suspected human trafficking case pleaded guilty to part of one of the charges against her Tuesday. That means authorities no longer need the immigrant to testify.

Rubi Bertaud-Cabrera, a 28-year-old Mexico native herself, admitted in federal court to harboring an illegal immigrant, though she did not admit to receiving any financial gain from concealing the woman.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Coates said the woman entered the country through Arizona in late October and arrived in North Charleston in early November. Bertaud-Cabrera kept the woman in her Ginger Lane home with her husband, children and brother-in-law for more than two weeks until police found the woman wandering around the Pepperhill subdivision off Ashley Phosphate Road, seemingly disoriented.

The 20-year-old woman from just outside Mexico City told investigators that she came to North Charleston under the promise of a housekeeping job, but soon learned that she would have to work as a prostitute to pay off her smuggling debt. The woman also told police that her captors sexually abused her and that she escaped by climbing out a window in the children's bedroom as Bertaud-Cabrera slept, according to court filings. Bertaud-Cabrera later admitted to immigration officials that she knew the woman crossed the border illegally. Bertaud-Cabrera pleaded not guilty to five charges in connection with her role months ago.

She appeared in court in a gray Charleston County jail jumpsuit Tuesday, a headset tucked into her long dark hair, through which a Spanish interpreter repeated the judge's questions. On the harboring charge, Bertaud-Cabrera faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Had she admitted to profiting off the woman, Bertaud-Cabrera could have faced double the prison time.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will dismiss the remaining charges of importing an alien for an immoral purpose, bringing in and harboring aliens, transporting for prostitution and failing to file a factual statement about an alien -- each of which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison with three years of supervised release, plus a $250,000 fine. Bertaud-Cabrera's sentencing hearing will take place at a yet-undetermined date.

With no possibility of trial, Patricia Ravenhorst, an attorney for the immigrant, requested that her client be allowed to return to Mexico. The woman sobbed in the back of the courtroom as U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck considered Ravenhorst's request.

"She came into the country illegally," Houck said. "What makes you think she's going to leave legally?"

Ravenhorst assured him that the woman would return home, considering that she tried to leave once through Arizona before authorities detained her.

Houck granted the request, and Ravenhorst said she would book a flight to Mexico City by week's end.