SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a plea deal recommendation for a short jail sentence, a judge instead ordered prison Monday for a man accused of bringing his daughter illegally to the U.S. to force her to live as his romantic partner, including giving birth to his child.
Jose Balam Valencia, 54, pleaded guilty in January to attempted rape and attempted forcible sodomy, both second-degree felonies, as part of a deal with prosecutors. He was originally charged with three counts each of rape and forcible sodomy, first-degree felonies.
Prosecutors also sought last year to charge Valencia with aggravated human trafficking, a first-degree felony, after missed deadlines by federal investigators moved the option to prosecute the case into the state's hands. However, the allegations predated state statute by two years.
The Deseret News profiled the case last year as an uncommon but illustrative example of the painful challenges identifying, investigating and prosecuting human trafficking.
Despite the recommendation in the plea deal that Valencia serve just two years in jail and potentially be moved to a Texas facility in order to be closer to relatives, 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris ordered Valencia to serve two consecutive sentences of one to 15 years each at the Utah State Prison.
"The idea that this person might be your daughter and you're forcing her to have sex is beyond what's imaginable," Kouris said as he issued the sentence. "It's something a person sees in a movie and doesn't believe is true, but in this case it is true."
Kouris also handed down a court order prohibiting Valencia from ever contacting his daughter or her child again.
Now 29, Valencia's daughter told the judge that after years of her father constantly monitoring where she was, who she spoke to or what she did, she wants only to be free of him for good.
"What I would like now is to have a normal life, I don't want him to get close to me," the woman said. "I don't want to know anything about him or his family again."
Valencia first met his daughter in El Salvador when she was 14 years old, promising to send her money each month. However, she said he also began sexually assaulting her, threatening to cut off his financial support if she resisted, according to prosecutors and testimony from a preliminary hearing last summer.
At the time, the woman said she lived in a crude home with no electricity and no running water, and Valencia promised her $100 a month. When she was 19, Valencia paid a "coyote" to smuggle the woman and her brother across the borders of Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S. so that they could live with him.
Knowing further abuse likely awaited her, the woman said last year she consented nonetheless and agreed to pay back a third of the cost, all in hopes of building a better life for herself in the U.S.
Once in Valencia's home, the woman said she was forced to live in a bedroom with him, worked in a job at McDonald's that Valencia got for her on a schedule that matched his, and received only a small cash allowance after her paychecks were deposited directly into an account Valencia controlled.
Nearly three years ago, the woman confided in a friend and co-worker about her situation, prepared to move out and contacted law enforcement.
At the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Melenie Serassio described the constant watch Valencia exercised over the woman as "ridiculous" and "the power and control of a domestic violence situation."
However, defense attorney Daniel Black said Monday that while Valencia now acknowledges his relationship with the woman was wrong, he did not believe she was actually his daughter, but the child of another man her mother had been involved with at the same time.
Valencia also believed the woman was a willing partner in the relationship, Black said.
"He is still to this day unsure whether she is his biological daughter or not," Black said. "This is not to excuse any behavior. He was operating under an assumption this was not his daughter and this was a consensual relationship between two adults."
Black also said Valencia deeply regrets he will never again see the child he fathered with the woman.
Valencia addressed the judge briefly through an interpreter Monday.
"I only want to say that I'm sorry," Valencia told the judge. "God bless you."
The woman disputed Valencia's claims Monday that he had ever represented himself to her as anyone but her father, despite the fact that a DNA test wasn't completed.
She also said Valencia has attempted to control and punish her from behind bars, selling the home she had helped pay a mortgage on for nine years with no warning and leaving her and her child just three days to vacate.
Following the hearing, the woman said that while she was relieved to see Valencia sent to prison, it was troubling that even at sentencing he continued to deny what had happened.
"He doesn't tell the truth," she said in Spanish. "I feel more relaxed knowing he's going to be (in prison), and they gave me a protective order, so he's not going to be able to get near my daughter or me."
The woman also spoke of her relief being free from Valencia's constant threats to take away her now 6-year-old child if she wasn't compliant.
"All the time he threatened to take her from me, and I feel very relieved to have a piece of paper that says now I'm protected, he's not going to take her, he's not going to do anything to me," she said.