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Mentally, physically disabled man deported for child sex trafficking

TAMPA - A prosecutor said it was "absolutely horrifying" that Mario Laguna-Guerrero pimped his teenaged, mentally disabled girlfriend at migrant farm camps where strangers paid $25 to have sex with her. The case is much more complicated than the crime, however, both sides agreed. "It's tragic from day one," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Palermo, "both in terms of his life, her life and what happened when those two lives came together." On Friday, the judge who sentenced Laguna-Guerrero had to weigh a vile crime, child sex trafficking, against twisted love and the expectation of premature death.
For one thing, the victim, professing her love for the man she referred to as her husband, adamantly opposed his imprisonment and refused to testify against him. Also, Laguna-Guerrero, who is also mentally disabled, suffers from a rare, incurable, terminal blood disorder for which the only approved treatment is a drug that has been dubbed the world's most expensive medication, costing more than $400,000 a year. "This (is) certainly a unique, rather bizarre case," said U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara. Since his arrest 31 months ago, Laguna-Guerrero has needed five blood transfusions, but is not receiving the costly drug that has been recommended by a specialist, said public defender Adam Allen. Now 27, Laguna-Guerrero's life expectancy is likely between 5 and 15 years, Allen said. When asked by the defense to impose a sentence of time served and deportation to Mexico, the judge noted that the defendant is unlikely to receive medical treatment in his home country. "Deporting him to Mexico, isn't that a death sentence for him?" Lazzara asked Allen. "He's going to die either way," Allen said. According to defense pleadings, Laguna-Guerrero's mother was a prostitute who abandoned him in Mexico. When he was a few weeks old, his alcoholic uncle "unknowingly sat on him for an extended period of time" injuring his brain and leaving him blind in one eye. His brother died of malnutrition, the defense says, and as a small child, Laguna-Guerrero would wander the streets of Mexico looking for food. "If he was lucky, he would get a single tortilla with sauce on it, and this would constitute his only food for the entire day," according to a defense pleading. After his grandmother died, he was left in the care of the alcoholic uncle, who reportedly would leave Laguna-Guerrero alone for extended periods "often hanging him by his shirt off the ground on a nail in the home," Allen wrote in a sentencing memorandum. The defendant never went to school or learned basic living skills. Eventually, Laguna-Guerrero immigrated illegally to join relatives in Plant City. Although he was twice deported, he returned each time to the United States. Palermo said Laguna-Guerrero was obsessed with the victim, calling her thousands of times from jail after his arrest. According to the defense, Laguna-Guerrero has an IQ of 60, and the victim's IQ was measured at 56. The defense provided Lazzara with copies of love letters the girl wrote him in jail, with every "i" dotted with a little heart, talking of plans to join him in Mexico and be together forever. "Maybe the reason my heart beats so fast when we are together is the same reason that yours does as well," she wrote. "Because our hearts beat as one with the love that God willing can survive eternity." Allen said the girl's mother, who is also mentally impaired, blessed the union, and Laguna-Guerrero lived with the girl's family until his arrest. Allen also provided the court with copies of cards from the girl's parents calling Laguna-Guerrero their son-in-law. Although Allen conceded Laguna-Guerrero pressured the girl to prostitute herself when she was 16 and 17 and he was 23, the lawyer argued he did not exert what could legally be considered "undue influence." Allen said the pair used the money she made through prostitution to go to the movies. Palermo said there's also evidence that Laguna-Guerrero used some of the money to pay the people who smuggled him here. When the girl didn't want to have sex with strangers, Palermo said, Laguna-Guerrero would cut himself on the chest, drawing blood, and say it was her fault he was hurt. A few months ago, the girl found a new boyfriend and decided she didn't want any more contact with the defendant. When Laguna-Guerrero continued to call her from jail, her attorney obtained a court order prohibiting contact. After he was arrested, Laguna-Guerrero began complaining of extreme abdominal pain, blood in his urine and excessive nose bleeding. He ultimately was diagnosed with a disorder called Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria, or PNH, a disorder in which the immune system destroys red blood cells. Lazzara struggled with what to do with the defendant. "It's a very unique case," the judge said, "one of the most unique cases I have ever had the responsibility of presiding over. … Giving him time served and deporting him could shorten his life, but obviously, it's his preference. He wants to return to Mexico." So Lazzara granted the defense motion, sentencing Laguna-Guerrero to time served and ordered him deported. The judge also added lifetime probation, which has the effect of increasing the potential legal consequences should he violate the conditions that he never have contact with the victim or return to the U.S. without permission.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTBO
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