Four people rescued as Highland Park woman charged with multiple counts of human trafficking

Four people including an infant were rescued, and a Highland Park woman was charged with multiple counts of human trafficking and involuntary servitude involving a case that began with a tip in late January.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Chris Covelli said the investigation that led to the rescue of four people on Feb. 7 and subsequent charges against of Gladys Ibanez Olea, 34, involved several agencies.

Highland Park police received a tip regarding potential human trafficking at a home on the 500 block of Onwentsia Avenue and after finding it to have merit, forwarded it to the sheriff’s Special Investigation Group, Covelli said.

According to Covelli, SIG, Highland Park police and Homeland Security Investigations gathered evidence showing Olea was engaged in human trafficking, and the Lake County state’s attorney’s office approved a search warrant.

On Feb. 7, the agencies searched Olea’s home in Highland Park and found additional evidence of her involvement in the trafficking of four people from Mexico, according to Covelli.

A 19-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son, and a 22-year-old woman and her 15-year-old brother were rescued from Olea’s home, Covelli said. All were relocated and are receiving services.

Covelli said the investigation showed Olea arranged for the four to be illegally escorted into the country around July 2023. Neither the adult or juvenile victims knew each other at the time.

According to Covelli, Olea promised housing, safety and jobs but after they arrived, took their identification, money and other goods and forced the adult victims and the 15-year-old into jobs to pay off their “debt” for safe entry into the U.S.

The victims were forced to give money they earned to Olea and the “debt” continually grew, making it unlikely they would be able to pay it off, according to the news release.

According to Covelli, there were padlocks around kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator to control what and when the people ate. Also, a fraudulent ID showing the teen was 19 was created and he was forced to work rather than attend school, the release said.

Olea prevented the 2-year-old from falling asleep during the day by giving him cold baths so the baby would sleep longer at night, according to the release. The people also were told their remaining family in Mexico would be killed if they didn’t comply, Covelli said.

Olea was taken into custody without incident. She is charged with eight counts of human trafficking, Class 1 felonies; three counts of involuntary servitude, Class 3 felonies; and four counts of involuntary servitude, Class 4 felonies. Additional charges are possible, Covelli said.

A Lake County judge Wednesday morning granted a petition to detain Olea. A detention hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

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