Highland Park, News

Highland Park woman trafficked four people, including two children, according to local authorities

Four individuals, including a 2-year-old, reportedly were extracted on Feb. 7 from a human trafficking operation in Highland Park.

According to a Lake County press release, the sheriff’s office, Highland Park Police Department and Homeland Security collaborated on an investigation that led to an arrest of Gladys Ibanez Olea, 34, of Highland Park, who allegedly was holding the individuals in servitude in her home in the 500 block of Onwentsia Avenue.

Olea was charged with eight counts of human trafficking and seven counts of involuntary servitude, all felonies, according to the release.

The four alleged victims — a 22-year-old, 19-year-old, 15-year-old and 2-year-old — were relocated and are receiving services, the release says.

“Human Trafficking is a real problem across the United States and right here in Lake County,” Sheriff John D. Idleburg said in a statement. “I am thankful these four victims were saved from their abuser and are no longer living in fear. Traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of their victims. They exploit their victims for personal gain. Our Special Investigations Group has rescued a number of victims over the last several years, and rescuing victims while holding traffickers accountable remains a top priority.” 

According to the release, the investigation began following a tip a community member gave to the Highland Park Police Department in January.

Authorities collected evidence that reportedly shows Olea arranged for four individuals to be illegally escorted into the country from Mexico in July of 2023 and then to Highland Park. Though she “promised housing, safety and jobs,” Olea instead took possession of their belongings, including their identification and money, and forced the three oldest individuals into jobs to pay “their debt for safe entry into the United States.”

“The ‘debt’ they owed Olea continually grew, and it appeared very unlikely they would be able to pay off the ‘debt,'” according to the release.

Investigators also discovered that the 2-year-old was given cold baths to keep them awake during the day; the 15-year-old was given a fake ID and forced to work rather than attend school; and the house featured padlocks on the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator “in order to control” what and when the alleged victims ate, the release says. Additionally, the alleged offender reportedly told the individuals that their families would be killed if they did not obey her.

Olea was apprehended without incident and remains in Lake County jail, the release says.

The Record, which does not typically publish the names of arrestees, chose to identify Olea because of the extraordinary nature of the alleged crimes and the profound impact she and they have and could have on the community.

A special message from the City of Highland Park sent on Wednesday condemns Olea’s alleged actions.

“The alleged actions of the suspect, a resident of Highland Park, do not reflect our community’s values. As a City, we are outraged by the actions of traffickers who abuse others for personal gain,” the message reads.

Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen praised the collaborative efforts of the investigation and emphasized the importance of the community tip.

“In line with the Ten Shared Principles of Public Safety, the City of Highland Park Police Department strives to provide public safety education and community engagement opportunities that build trust with our residents, businesses, and other governments, because we are all partners in keeping our community safe,” he said in a statement.

“This investigation began because of a community tip. It underscores how vital it is for community members to speak up if someone’s actions or behaviors seem suspicious. Together, we can work to build safer communities where everyone can thrive.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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