Authorities in Greenfield, a farming community on California's central coast, said they learned of the deal after Marcelino de Jesus Martinez, 36, asked them for help getting back his daughter after payment wasn't made.
Martinez was arrested Sunday. He's scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Monterey County Superior Court on felony charges of procuring a child under age 16 for lewd and lascivious acts, statutory rape and cruelty to a child by endangering health, according to the prosecutor.
The prosecutor's office said Martinez did not have an attorney of record yet.
Police also arrested the intended groom, 18-year-old Margarito de Jesus Galindo, on suspicion of statutory rape, but prosecutors have not decided whether to charge him. Police did not return a message Tuesday for information on whether Galindo had an attorney.
Martinez is a member of an indigenous Mexican Trique community. Greenfield police Chief Joe Grebmeier said the case highlights an issue confronting local authorities in that arranged marriages with girls as young as 12 are not uncommon among the Trique.
He hesitated to say the girl was being sold into marriage, as the money was intended as a dowry and the beer and meat were for the wedding. But, he added, the arrangement violates California law, where the age of consent for marriage is 18, and with parental approval, 16.
"This is not a traditional trafficking case because there is no force or coercion in this," Grebmeier said. "We're aware of the cultural issues here, but state law trumps cultural sensitivity."
Grebmeier is planning to meet with leaders in the Trique community to talk about how some cultural practices might conflict with California law.
"Initially, when everyone was talking to us, we learned a lot because they had no realization that it's against the law — an arranged marriage for money with a minor," Grebmeier said.
Many Trique immigrants are part of the stream of farmworkers who tend California's fruit and vegetable fields, living in communities scattered along the coast and the state's agricultural Central Valley. The often speak only Trique, an indigenous language, and come from villages with cultural traditions that set them apart from other Mexicans.
Service organizations have been working to help them integrate, said Jonathan Fox, a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has worked extensively with indigenous immigrants.
"This is certainly not the first such case I've heard of," he said of the marriage involving an underage girl.
Members of the indigenous community protested the news reports and public discussion of the case, saying they were painted in a very negative light.
"No one put a 'for sale' sign on this girl, and that's how it sounds," said Rufino Dominguez, an indigenous immigrant and head of the Greenfield office of the Binational Center for the Development of the Indigenous Communities.
He said arranging marriages and exchanging goods that will contribute to the wedding party are common, but money is not usually part of the transaction. When that does happen, it's not seen well within the community, he said.
"Most people don't agree with it," he said.
Police learned of the deal in mid-December, when Martinez reported his daughter as a runaway. Further investigation found the girl had not fled but moved in with Galindo as part of the marriage arrangement. Grebmeier said the girl was a willing party to the deal.
Martinez would face at least a year in prison if convicted. Because he's an undocumented immigrant, he's under an immigration hold and is not eligible for bail.