Smuggler convicted of assaulting immigrant

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A people smuggler was convicted Thursday in Brooklyn federal court of sexually assaulting a teenage illegal immigrant from El Salvador while driving her in a van to relatives in Brentwood.

The woman, now 21 and working as a waitress at a Long Island Chinese restaurant, testified at trial that when she was 17 she was smuggled into Texas for $4,000. She said defendant Juan Carlos Escobar-Gonzalez, a Mexican illegal living in Texas, drove her in a van with other illegal immigrants to the Northeast, but after unloading the others raped her at a New Jersey Turnpike service plaza.

After he took her to the home of an uncle in Brentwood, she said, she went to a hospital and the family reported the assault despite fears that it might lead to her being deported. Escobar-Gonzalez, 30, was eventually arrested in Louisiana.

The woman testified she has applied for a so-called "U Visa," which can be granted to victims of sex abuse and other crimes to legalize their status in the U.S. The defense suggested she might have made up the assault story to try to get a visa, but jurors found Escobar-Gonzalez guilty on their second day of deliberations.

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Escobar-Gonzalez was convicted of interstate transportation of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, interstate travel to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, and alien smuggling for profit.

He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, and up to life. Sentencing is set for March 1.

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