Human trafficking victim works to rescue others from same fate

RIALTO, Calif. (KABC) -- A human trafficking victim who spent 22 years wrongly imprisoned for murder is now helping to free others from modern day slavery.

Maria Suarez, who now resides in Rialto, is a counselor. She shares her story everyday, hoping to put a face on the often private hell that is human trafficking.

"It's a miracle for me today being alive," Suarez said.

She grew up in Mexico and came to the United States as a teenager. Suarez says she thought she was being hired as a housekeeper, but it turns out she was sold for $200 as a sex slave to Azusa resident Anselmo Covarrubias.

"He said if I tell my family what he had done to me, he will kill my family," Suarez said.

Investigators say he physically, sexually and emotionally abused Suarez.

"It's just like living one day at a time to see if you wake up the next day because you can be killed at night," Suarez said.

After several years of abusing Suarez, Covarrubias was killed by a neighbor, but that neighbor pointed the blame at Suarez.

"Due to all the damage that I had emotionally, I was very disturbed. I did not defend myself, I did not say anything," she said.

Suarez was then arrested and convicted of first-degree murder.

"To be honest with you, I felt secure in prison and in jail," Suarez said. "I felt like he couldn't get me in there anymore."

While behind bars, Suarez learned English and studied her case closely. She found out that her original attorney was so bad, he was disbarred.

"I always knew that it was freedom for me. When? I didn't know when," Suarez said.

She teamed up with new legal representation and was granted parole by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Advocates lobbied for Suarez to be granted the first ever special visa for a victim of human trafficking, allowing her to avoid deportation. Her sanctuary was granted.

"It feels like it's a dream, this is a dream," Suarez said.

Suarez wants to share the lessons she's learned with more people and has founded a non-profit called the Maria Suarez Foundation.

"If I can save one person that will be wonderful," Suarez said. "I used to dream about this long tunnel, long, long, and I see this light at the end. About fighting about human trafficking, I also see that light. We're gonna do it."

The launch of the Maria Suarez Foundation will be held at Loyola Law School Wednesday night. For more information, visit

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