Sonia Orozco’s alleged victims extend further than people she met through the Midvale Boys & Girls Club. Two women, distantly related, allege they were both victims of Orozco five years ago. Both women still live with the consequences of trusting the well-known Latino youth advocate with their money and their security. What the stories have in common is that Orozco traded on the two women’s yearning for a better life for vulnerable or wayward sons, leaving the families only deep in debt and bitter disappointment.
That disappointment, along with a still palpable fear, is present in the tears of a woman in her late 50s who lives in a tiny Midvale apartment. She met Orozco 10 years ago while Orozco, then 40, was working at a school, says “B-H”, who requested her name be withheld because she is undocumented. “Era my buena, muy decente,” B-H recalls. Orozco was a good person, very decent. “She helped us, gave us advice. We all trusted her.”
Five years after they first met, B-H called Orozco when letters arrived from attorneys informing her family that an arrest warrant was out for their son. Orozco came to her apartment and told her and her son that if they paid $1,700 in cash, the problem would go away. If they didn’t, she told them, “Immigration is coming for you tonight.” Even as B-H tells the story, she starts crying, remembering the terror she and her son felt at Orozco’s words.
B-H borrowed the money from another son and paid Orozco. When she asked for a receipt, Orozco refused to give her one. “Trust me,” she said. B-H never heard from Orozco again, but in June 2011, when her son was pulled over by local police for not having insurance, B-H found out he still faced the same warrant from four years before. B-H still owes her oldest son $300, having paid off the rest by giving him their rent money—thanks to a kind apartment building manager, she and her husband, who has diabetes, work off their rent by cleaning apartments. “Sonia knew our family, she knew we didn’t have money,” B-H says.
That would also have been apparent to Orozco when she allegedly visited now 45-year-old Graciela, who lives with her daughter and her family in a well-kept doublewide trailer in Salt Lake City.
Four years ago, Graciela had problems with sons, now 22 and 27 years old, who were both using drugs. An elegant, soft-spoken woman, Graciela says B-H recommended she ask Orozco to advise her children. The Jordan School District employee—who was recently terminated after an internal investigation following her arrest for theft by extortion—would come over and talk to her then-17-year-old about his life. “She said she was a cop, or had friends who were cops, and could help us with tickets my son had,” Gracelia recalls. Orozco wanted $300. Despite having given her the money, Graciela received a new arrest warrant for her son. Orozco told her, “I can fix it.” Graciela believed her. “I had a lot of faith in her.”
But notices about old, unpaid traffic tickets kept coming with escalating debts to the state and with them criminal charges. Orozco told Graciela it would cost $2,000 to resolve the situation. Graciela balked at the cost. Orozco applied the screws, saying, Graciela recalls, “Immigration had gotten the case, they were coming here.”
Graciela gathered $1,000 and gave it to Orozco in checks. The money came through a “tanda.” A number of “responsible people,” she says, agree to pay the same amount over the same number of weeks as those involved. Each week, one individual takes the entire amount. Graciela says she has copies of the checks she gave Orozco filed away.
But Graciela’s daughter, a U.S. citizen, told her mother she didn’t trust Orozco. They went to court to enquire about Graciela’s son’s case. “Sonia hadn’t done anything,” Graciela says. She had to pay $800 to the court to get rid of the tickets.
“I felt very bad, very disappointed. I was left without money.”
For all Orozco’s promises to help her sons, nothing transpired. Instead, Graciela has ended up telling her sons—who, after stints in a Christian rehab clinic, have “gone back to their old tricks”—that she doesn’t want to see them.
For Graciela, Orozco’s betrayal, in some sense, fits in with how the undocumented Latino community is often treated in Utah. “We’re marginalized, discriminated against. We do the worst jobs.” She still struggles with a severe burn on her hand from her job with a dry-cleaning company. But yet she endures with a gritty determination. She has worked in Utah for 12 years. “I don’t want to lose the little I’ve got,” she says, but if she one day is picked up by ICE, “There is always a good side,” she says. “At least I will see my parents.”