by: Myrt Price, WFTV Web Staff Updated:
LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - A 17-year-old girl is safe Wednesday after deputies said she was a victim of human trafficking at a blueberry farm in Lake County, deputies said.
The teen told deputies that Carlos Garcia-Diaz forced her to pick blueberries to pay off the debt she racked up when he brought her into the country illegally, deputies said.
"She was brought across the border illegally. She has been told that she owes a certain amount of money that she was being forced to repay to the person who brought her over. That's definitely human trafficking," said Jim Vachon of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
The girl has been in the United States for a year after crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona, deputies said.
Neighbors told Channel 9's Myrt Price that the teen lived in cabins in Leesburg off of County Road 473.
Garcia-Diaz told investigators that the victim owed him money for helping her get into the country, but he denied forcing her to work.
"She said if she didn't want to work at any particular day or time, he would beat her and force her to go back into the fields," Vachon said.
Garcia-Diaz was arrested and charged with human trafficking of a child under 18.
The Department of Children and Families is providing care for the girl.
Investigators said that they believe the owners of the blueberry farms were unaware that the teen was a victim of human trafficking.
Eyewitness News learned Garcia-Diaz is in Florida illegally from Mexico. Deputies said he was deported once before, but found a way to get back into the country.
This is the first forced-labor human trafficking arrest that the sheriff's office has made.
Officials say the suspect forced the victim to work. In order to pay of the debt, for bringing her here from Mexico. #WFTV— Myrt Price (@MPriceWFTV) April 12, 2017
A 17 y/o victim claims the suspect forced her to work at a blueberry farm, picking blue berries. #WFTV— Myrt Price (@MPriceWFTV) April 12, 2017
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