A woman who forced an 8-year-old Salvadoran girl to work in a Pacoima restaurant after smuggling the child into the country to serve as her "personal slave" was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edmund W. Clarke Jr. questioned whether Dora Alicia Valle, 52, saw a "fellow human being" and understood that the girl had a right to live freely and be respected.
"I don't know why Ms. Valle, in looking at her, did not see that," the judge said.
The girl, who is now 13, told the judge that she was informed that she owed Valle $10,000 to repay her for the costs of being smuggled into the country.
The girl was paid $30 a week -- along with the tips she got for working at the restaurant that was run but not owned by Valle -- but was allowed to keep just $5 to $10 a week, according to Deputy District Attorney Paul Kim.
The prosecutor said the girl was "at best an indentured servant" but was "for all intensive purposes her (Valle's) personal slave" who was "trafficked by coyotes" into the United States and turned over to what was "supposed to be a surrogate mother" who was instead "a tyrant."
"She is completely remorseless," the prosecutor said of Valle, noting that the defendant told state prison counselors that she felt she was doing "God's work."
Valle's attorney urged the judge to consider a probationary sentence for his client, who pleaded no contest to slavery and human trafficking charges.
The lawyer said Valle apparently spent the vast majority of her life "crime-free" and has otherwise been a productive member of society.
Two of Valle's friends spoke on her behalf in court, with both urging the judge to give her a second chance.
Longtime friend Eloy Garcia told the judge, "Your honor, maybe there's some things she did ... I believe she did it thinking that she was trying to help somebody maybe better their life ... It's not the right thing to do."
Valle entered her no contest plea last July midway through her trial.
Valle was charged in 2014 along with her then live-in boyfriend, Estrada Melvin Sandoval, who pleaded no contest last year to one misdemeanor count each of false imprisonment and battery.
He was sentenced to 18 months in jail and was expected to be deported once he finished his term.
Valle is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom April 6 for a hearing to determine how much restitution she has to pay the girl.