Velasco got into hot water on a personal case.
This turned Once Upon a Time In el Barrio into a rougher case than usual for the SVU team.
A dark abduction unfolds
In Jaracuez, Mexico, three young women, Valeria (Isa Garcia), Maribel (Orianna Bustamante), and Sofia (Sara Guiterrez), were at a modeling agency, looking nervous but vowing to stick together.
Valeria was called into the office, where the agent (Gabriela Gonzales) talked about her going to New York. She then pressed for money, and when Valeria said she didn’t have enough, the agent replied, “there’s something I can do.”
In New York, the girls were among a pack of women brought to a dark area where some thugs demanded their belongings and gave them pills. Maribel realized something was wrong and tried to run, only to be tackled down, doused with liquor, and set on fire before the horrified girls.
At the station, Benson related Carisi was taking Rollins and her kids to Orlando for a vacation. Fin pressed on Stabler’s supposed “suspension” with Benson about to explain it was just an act.
Velasco broke in as he was on video chat with his old hometown priest, Father Daniel (Alexis Cruz), who needed help. He talked of the girls heading to New York but vanished. He then shared a voicemail Valeria had managed to send of Maribel’s murder.
The squad didn’t have much luck tracking the girls, with Velasco defending Fin’s accusations of the Mexican cops being corrupt. Fin then got the phone call about Maribel’s body being discovered, devastating Velasco.
At the crime scene, Velasco was barely able to hold it together, identifying Maribel by the cross she wore. He then had the sad job of telling Daniel what happened while vowing to find her friends.
Velasco told Benson how Valeria’s parents were killed by a drug cartel, and Daniel raised her. He also raised Velasco when he was on the run after escaping the gangs. Velasco wasn’t happy Benson wanted to put off the search a bit to wait for reinforcements.
Velasco took off on a motorcycle to run down leads on where to find “Mexican girls.” But just his luck, one prostitute turned out to be undercover cop Rosanny Chavez (Karina Ortiz). Her Captain Don Kubiak (Brad William Henke) noted how bad this looked as he arrested Velasco.
A cop falls in duty
Needless to say, Benson was not happy to bail out one of her detectives. Chavez offered some aid but noted it’d be challenging given the community was wary of talking to police.
Chavez led the team to see Juana Ramirez (Yassmin Alers), a local chef who was tied in with the community. She and Chavez were impressed Velasco escaped the gang life.
Ramirez shared there was trafficking, but it was hard to get anyone to talk about it due to the gang’s power. She promised to find out more as she shared some food.
The cops talked to various people at motels used by the trafficking rings. One maid, Lucia, was nervous but seemed to recognize the girls while refusing to talk more.
Lucia agreed to meet them at Juana’s shop, but just as she walked up with Chavez, a car ran over Chavez, with a terrified Lucia racing off.
Sadly, Chavez died in the operating room, giving the squad a personal reason to take down the gang. A heartbroken Juana talked of everyone trusting Chavez, with Velasco promising they could trust him too.
Posing as an injured driver, Velasco showed up at a funeral parlor that was a front for an underground clinic. He found Lucia there as she related the people behind this to be Lourdes and Jorge Padilla.
Lucia added that the rest of the girls were going to be sold to another ring. She then dropped the bomb that Kubiak was tied into all this. She told Chavez who was killed before she could reveal it.
The team played like they were in the dark talking to Kubiak as Velasco entered to talk about Lourdes, and they had a lead on a phone used by her contacts. He ran a number…and Kubiak’s phone rang. “That’s your life sentence calling,” Fin coldly said as they arrested him.
Mounting a rescue
Baptiste was pushing a warrant on Kubiak as Fin related his bad record with Benson sardonically noting he benefited from friends covering for him. Baptiste pointed out that it would be tricky to prove a case without Lucia to finger Kubiak.
Lucia did identify Kubiak with him trying to play it as consensual. He even claimed Sanchez would be alive if the team hadn’t gone into the case, which didn’t go over well. Kubiak’s lawyer offered immunity for his cooperation which Benson was outraged at.
Fin then revealed how Lucia was 15, meaning Kubiak was guilty of statutory rape. Going into jail as a corrupt pedophile cop was enough to get Kubiak to spill his guts.
Benson was outraged at Baptiste ready to offer Kubiak a deal, but he argued the priority was saving the girls. Kubiak called Jorge about how he was supposed to scare Chavez, not kill her.
Kubiak played he had a lead on Lucia to get Jorge to agree to a meeting.
Velasco accompanied Kubiak to meet Jorge with an undercover cop posing as a tied-up Lucia. A terrified Valeria was led out with Velasco acting being a trafficker. They bantered about price before the rest of the girls were led out.
Jorge decided to double-cross Kubiak with Velasco revealing himself as a cop. The rest raced up to arrest the group.
Velasco told Daniel how the girls were safe, the priest thanking him while Velasco was grateful at least two of the women would be going home.
It was a hard episode for Velasco but shows how he wants to aid those in need which fits the SVU team.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.