Human Trafficking Newsletter April 2016

The following is a compendium of news reports over the last month that may be of interest to our AG offices that are dealing with state-focused human trafficking issues. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.

In the Courts

Federal

Doe v. Backpage.com, LLC, No. 15-1724 (1st Cir. Mar. 14, 2016)

This lawsuit was brought under the civil remedy section of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1595(a), by three plaintiffs who, as minors, were victims of sex trafficking and were advertised on Backpage.com. The lower court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that, as a publisher, Backpage.com enjoyed protection under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 7 U.S.C. § 230. The First Circuit upheld the dismissal, finding that the CDA was enacted to ensure that publishers not be held liable for content posted on their websites. The court wrote: “Congress did not sound an uncertain trumpet when it enacted the CDA, and it chose to grant broad protections to internet publishers. Showing that a website operates through a meretricious business model is not enough to strip away those protections. If the evils that the appellants have identified are deemed to outweigh the First Amendment values that drive the CDA, the remedy is through legislation, not through litigation.”

Legislative Action

Federal

The Senate voted 96-0 in favor of a resolution to authorize civil contempt proceedings against Backpage.com, which has refused to honor a subpoena to appear before a Senate subcommittee.

State

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her support for AB 1731, a bill that would create a permanent interagency task force to coordinate law enforcement responses to human trafficking. The task force would be led by the state Department of Justice.

HB 5621 has been voted out of the Connecticut Judiciary Committee. It would establish training programs, institute procedures to designed to prevent trafficking at motels, raise the age to 18 for a person to be convicted on prostitution charges, eliminate knowledge of age for a person to be convicted of a class C felony for patronizing a prostitute, and expand the requirement for posting of notices. HB 5052, introduced by Governor Malloy, would make it a felony to entice or seduce someone online reasonably believed to be younger than 16.

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed HB 545 into law, establishing harsher penalties for those convicted of human trafficking. It also includes human trafficking as a predicate offense for felony murder and prohibits the prosecution of minors on specified prostitution charges.

The legislature in Hawaii has once again taken up the issue of sex trafficking. Last year, the governor vetoed a bill because local prosecutors argued that the language would make it more difficult to prosecute pimps. In HB 1902, being considered by the House, minor victims of sex trafficking would not be prosecuted. According to advocates, there are about 1,500 to 2,500 sex trafficking victims in the state every year.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has signed several bills to enhance the state’s fight against human trafficking. HEA 1199 requires that someone convicted of sex trafficking must be a registered sex offender. SEA 305 will add human trafficking to the Child in Need of Services code to allow the Department of Child Services to intervene and serve children who are victims of human trafficking. SEA 14 increases penalties for the possession and manufacturing of child pornography. HEA 1028 extends the common nuisance statute to include instances of human trafficking.

Legislators in Iowa passed four bills addressing human trafficking. SF 2191 would establish an office within the Department of Public Safety to combat human trafficking. SF 2258 requires the Department of Human Services to refer to law enforcement children under its care who it has a reasonable cause to believe is are victims of sex trafficking. HF 2401 addresses an issue that has been occurring with increasing frequency in cases of minors caught up in sex trafficking. It would prohibit anyone from opening or using a credit card in the name of a minor without the consent of the minor’s parents or legal guardian. HF 2278 extends the statute of limitation for human trafficking and kidnapping victims to obtain recourse to ten years after a victim turns 18.

Acting on a suggestion by the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission, the Michigan legislature has passed HB 4065, a measure that would require human trafficking notices in state rest stops, public transportation stations, strip clubs, and elsewhere.

Nebraska lawmakers have advanced out of committee LB 843 that would make adult victims of human trafficking immune from prostitution charges.

HB 1628 has passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The purchase of sexual contact, or the offer of the same with a minor, or the viewing of a sexually explicit performance of a minor would be classified as a Class B felony.

SB 2121 passed the Tennessee Senate and will be considered by the House in early April. The bill clarifies that the offense of promoting prostitution applies only when a person promotes or procures another person for prostitution; it does not apply to the victim.

Utah’s Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee voted to reject HB136 which would have called for the death penalty in certain human trafficking cases.

A new bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly, HB 681, extends the time that human trafficking victims may bring a civil suit for punitive damages to seven years.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 6376 into law. The new law officially designates January 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the state.

Local

Pinellas County has passed an ordinance that expands Florida’s new state law requiring informative signage regarding human trafficking. Under the ordinance, businesses that offer specialty salon services, such as nail salons, massage parlors, bodywork studios, and strip clubs will be required to post those notices.

State Investigations/Arrests/Prosecutions

California

Mar. 23, 2016: In Solano County, Robert Patterson, 19, pled no contest to one count of human trafficking of labor; he had previously faced charges of sex trafficking of a child pimping, and pandering. The victim was 16 years old and was being advertised on the Internet and transported throughout the state for purposes of prostitution.

Mar. 19, 2016: A seven-month long investigation by undercover police and FBI led to multiple arrests across Alameda and San Mateo counties. Two alleged leaders of a sex-trafficking ring, Curtis Ng and Shelly Yu, were arrested and charged with pimping, pandering, and conspiracy. Police allege that they pair rented apartment rooms in six locations, used social media to advertise at least a dozen sex workers, and even had “receptionists” at two locations who oversaw operations. The majority of the sex workers were brought to the United States from China. Social workers have been brought in to determine what their situation is and how they can be helped.

Mar. 11, 2016: Dora Alcicia Valle, 52, was sentenced to five years in prison for labor trafficking after she pled no contest to charges involving an eight-year old Salvadoran girl. She smuggled the child into the country and then told her she had to work to pay off a $10,000 debt. The child was paid $30 a week working in a Pacoima restaurant, but was allowed to keep only $5 to $10 a week. The amount of restitution owed has yet to be determined.

Mar. 11, 2016: The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has charged 27-year old Patrick Lamont Harris with child sex trafficking and associated crimes. During a sting operation, investigators met a 15-year old who told investigators that Harris had forced her into prostitution and assaulted her for nearly a month.

Mar. 7, 2016: In Los Angeles, two individuals have pled guilty to various charges in connection with the sex trafficking of two victims, one of whom was a minor. Maurice English pled guilty to human trafficking and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He demanded that each victim earn $1,000 a day and intimidated them through physical assault. Shelia Smith, an associate of English, pled guilty to witness intimidation. She was sentenced to four years’ formal probation.

Mar. 9, 2016: The Los Angeles County Sheriff’ Department announced the arrest of several people and the rescue of a 20-year old woman who self-reported as a human trafficking victim. Police received information from the mother of the woman who said she had received a “hushed” phone call from her daughter who reported she had been forced into prostitution. Investigators located her in a motel where she identified vehicles used by her captors. Chad Philllips Miller, Rico C. Clayton, and Monique Clayton have been arrested on charges relating to the incident. Two other women, whose names were not released, were also arrested. Authorities theorize that the suspects have been operating a human trafficking network that stretches from southern California to Portland, Oregon.

Mar. 7, 2016: A San Louis Obispo jury found a former volunteer fire fighter in Cayucos guilty of 25 felonies involving the human trafficking of a minor. He faces up to life in prison.

Mar. 3, 2016: In the first sex trafficking case prosecuted by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, Jamar Geeter was found guilty of 16 felonies, including human trafficking, rape, pimping, and related charges. His victims were 14 and 16.

Mar. 1, 2016: A number of individuals were arrested by Fairfield police in a human trafficking and prostitution investigation. Four teenage girls were contacted and discovered to be the victims of three men, Jahil Mitchell, 19; Paul Wells, 18; and Christopehr Steward, 19. They were arrested and booked into a Solano County jail on charges of human trafficking. Several other men were identified and there is an ongoing investigation as to their relationship to human trafficking and pimping.

Florida

Mar. 17. 2016: A Ft. Walton Beach couple, Taylor Hale and Jennifer Pope, have been charged on various counts in connection with trafficking four adult women. According to police, the women claim that the couple used violence, threats, and drugs to force them into prostitution. The duo has been booked into Okaloosa County jail without bond.

Georgia

Mar. 21, 2016: The Athens-Clarke County Police Department received a call that alerted them to a 16-year old that reported she was being prostituted at a motel in Athens. Police responding to the call found the girl and two of her purported pimps. During the investigation, they learned that another girl who was being prostituted had left the hotel, possibly heading for Florida. Florida law enforcement authorities found the girl and five more suspects were arrested and face extradition to Athens.

Mar. 7, 2016: Working with the FBI, the DeKalb Anti-Trafficking Task Force, and Gwinnett County vice cops, the Dunwoody police conducted an undercover sex sting operation. They arrested two people for pimping and nine for prostitution. The goal of the operation was to rescue any victims of commercial sex trafficking, especially children.

Illinois

Mar. 25, 2016: Chicago police arrested Anthony Harris, 31, and Charmaine Latrice Renfro, 39, and charged them with one felony count of involuntary service and one felony count of trafficking. They allegedly forced an 18-year old into prostitution and held her against her will. With the help of a witness, the victim was able to contact police.

Indiana

Mar. 28, 2016: Patrick Bruce Zimmer, 28, was sentenced in St. Joseph Superior Court on child solicitation and human trafficking convictions. Zimmer was arrested after responding to an Internet advertisement involving prostitution of an under-age child. He received an eight-year prison sentence.

Maryland

Mar. 21, 2016: Berris Munroe, 39, was arrested in Ellicott City on human trafficking, prostitution, and disorderly conduct charges. Staff at a hotel alerted police of suspicious activity. An ensuing investigation revealed that Munroe was advertising a New York woman on Backpage.com and arranging transportation for her to travel to Maryland for the purpose of prostitution. Police helped connect the victim with advocacy services.

Mar. 7, 2016 Ann Arundel County police received a tip regarding possible human trafficking in Lithicum. Detectives found an online ad and located a woman at a hotel. Investigation revealed that James Bell, 47, rented the room and took the woman to Maryland for the purpose of prostituting her. Bell was arrested and an investigation is continuing.

Mar. 5, 2016: Nathaniel Lee Thompson, 28, who fled from Howard County police when they wished to question him about human trafficking has been found, arrested, and charged with multiple counts involving the trafficking of a minor.

Mar. 4, 2016: Two men have been arrested and charged in connection with teen sex trafficking ring. Raleigh McClam, 36, who worked briefly as a Prince George’s County school bus driver, and Savion Sharpe, 22, allegedly conducted their illegal activities at a motel in Rockville.

Massachusetts

Mar. 23, 2016: A human trafficking investigation focusing on demand, involving both Homeland Security investigators and state investigators from six different police departments, led to the arrests of 11 men, according to Seekonk Police Chief Craig Mace.

Mar. 22, 2016: Bairon Ubeda, 35, faces a 14-count indictment including human trafficking, and child rape. The incidents occurred primarily in Holyoke in February.

Michigan

Mar. 29, 2016: Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the conviction of Jahan Satati Green, 38, of Inkster on five felonies for his role in running a prostitution ring across Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne County.

Mar. 14, 2016: Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that his office has filed human trafficking charges against Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings. The charges include one count of pandering, ten counts of engaging the services of a prostitute, and four counts of willful neglect of duty. The charges were filed in four locations, based on where the crimes allegedly occurred. The charges are the result of a federal investigation that led to the conviction of a human trafficking ring leader, Tyrone Smith. Information gathered during that investigation led AG investigators, assisted by the FBI, to Dunnings.

Minnesota

Mar. 10, 2016: Desmond Reeder was arrested by Rochester police after a woman told the street crimes unit that she paid him half of her earnings. He faces charges of sex trafficking and being in possession of an incapacitating device (a taser).

New Jersey

Mar. 30, 2016: Donnie T. Beethea, 32, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on his guilty plea to trafficking seven different women between the ages of 20 and 22. He will serve 13 years on the trafficking charges and 7 years for sexual assault, to be served consecutively. He also must register as a sex offender and will be subject to parole supervision for life upon release from prison. This is Atlantic County’s first conviction under the human trafficking statute.

Mar. 29, 2016: In Trenton, two New Jersey men and a man from South Carolina have pled guilty to human trafficking charges involving a 14-year old girl. Michael McLeod, 25, from Jersey City pled guilty to conspiracy to commit and the facilitation of human trafficking. The other two men, David Powell, Jr., 290, and Demetrius Hayward, 20, pled guilty to conspiracy.

Mar. 2, 2016: A Boston man, Jovann Hall, 30, pled guilty to human trafficking charges. He faces up to seven years in prison. The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office reported that, as part of the plea agreement, Hall has will pay a $15,000 fine and make restitution to his victim.

Nevada

Mar. 29, 2016: Marvin Diggins, 19, was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with prostituting two girls from California, ages 14 and 15. Metro police had received a tip from California authorities regarding the two girls and spotted them as they loitered near the Hard Rock Hotel and then saw them again entering the MGM Grand. When questioned, the teens said that Diggins offered them shelter but insisted they work as prostitutes. They turned over nearly all of the money earned to him.

New York

Mar. 1, 2016: Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced that Lindsay Archibald, 33, and Stephen Garrison, 27, pled guilty to promoting prostitution. The victim was a 14 year-old runaway.

North Carolina

Mar. 7, 2016: Allen Harris, Jr., the last of three defendants charged in a human trafficking case involving a teen-ager, pled guilty to promoting prostitution which led to the initial charges of human trafficking, sexual servitude, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping being dropped. With the help of one of her customers, the victim eventually escaped, but did not contact law enforcement. The trafficking began in November 2013 when the victim was brought from Florida to North Carolina. Harris was sentenced to from ten months to one year, nine months. The Alamance County District Attorney noted that the victim was reluctant to testify in this case.

Ohio

Mar. 30, 2016: Two men have been indicted on human trafficking and prostitution charges in Allen County. Investigators looking into a prostitution case found that a 16-year old girl was being offered on line for sexual services. An undercover responded to the ad and went to the motel, spotting the two men in a van outside the room where the undercover was to meet up with the teen. This will be the first human trafficking case prosecuted by the Allen County Prosecutor’s office.

Oregon

Mar. 19, 2016: During a recent online sex trafficking sting, Portland police arrested 18 men. The men ranged from 22 to 67 years of age.

Pennsylvania

Mar. 7, 2016: In one of the first sentences handed down under Pennsylvania’s human trafficking law, Isaac Pearson was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 17 to 34 years in prison. His arrest came after an undercover sting conducted by Allentown police. He was pimping out three women and keeping them under his control by drugging them and sexually and physically assaulting them.

Rhode Island

Mar. 12, 2016: The combined efforts of Homeland Security, the FBI, state police, and five different Rhode Island police departments resulted in the arrest of Ylesi Garcia on one count of prostitution and one count of human trafficking involving a minor. A 16-year old victim was recovered. Sixteen other individuals were arrested on prostitution related charges. The ACLU criticized the undercover operation which it said targeted people seeking consensual sex, but the Cranston police chief noted that saving one child victim made the operation a success.

Tennessee

Mar. 15, 2016: Two individuals have been indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury on charges related to juvenile human trafficking. The indictments against Christopher Hill and his wife, Kasity, came as a result of an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding the attempts to recruit a 17-year old for the purposes of commercial sex.

Texas

Mar. 29, 2016: Jeffrey Wright, 32, was indicted on a first-degree felony charge of engaging in organized criminal activity in connection with his involvement in human trafficking surrounding four Asian massage parlors in Houston. At each of these locations, victims of human trafficking were recovered and are being helped. Three others have also been charged; two are in custody.

Mar. 25, 2016: A jury in Waco’s 19th State District Court found Andre Renor Evans, 51, guilty of human trafficking and sexual assault of a child. The jury recommended 12 life sentences. His victim was 15-years old.

Mar. 22, 2016: McLennan County deputies, assisted by investigators from Homeland Security, raided two Waco massage parlors and served warrants in a crackdown on human trafficking. They found four women living at the businesses, none of whom spoke English. Jacob Guang Yang has been arrested in connection with the investigation.

Mar. 11, 2016: In Sherman, Dillard Freeney, 43, was sentenced to ten years in prison after admitting that he trafficked a female victim. Police arrested him after undercover officers responded to an online ad for escort services. Freeney was in the parking lot of a hotel in a waiting car.

Mar. 8, 2016: A man and a woman have been arrested in Dallas on charges of human trafficking. A 15-year-old was lured through social media by Jaylen Devonte Gaines to travel to Texas. When she arrived, she was raped and then prostituted. Renee Collins, a co-conspirator, coached the girl and gave her tips on avoiding being arrested. The teen allegedly asked a hotel clerk to call police after being prostituted over a period of several weeks.

Mar. 7, 2016: In Houston, a joint operation, called Operation Traveling Circus, partnered the police department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, and the Houston Chapter of the YMCA to focus on finding pimps and johns. Over 400 were arrested. At the press conference announcing the operation and arrests, a display of “Wall of Johns” was shown. Those arrested for prostitution (and not considered human trafficking victims) will receive counseling and help. If they commit to and finish the program, their cases will be dismissed.

Mar. 4, 2016: In San Antonio, another person has been arrested in connection with an investigation into child sex trafficking. My’Kael Savon Terry, 19, is alleged to have facilitated the prostitution of a 15-year old by soliciting online customers and setting up “dates” for her.

Mar. 3, 2016: Lubbock police arrested Diewon Ray Cypers, 24, on aggravated robbery and human trafficking charges. Police executing a search warrant found an AR-15 rifle and three handguns as well as drugs and cash.

Virginia

Mar. 17, 2016: An investigation into prostitution has led to the arrest of Jerry Payton, 40, on 10 counts of sex trafficking including allegations that he attempted to use underage children in his business. Neighbors in his South Richmond neighborhood reported that they frequently saw women come and go from Payton’s home.

Washington

Mar. 11, 2015: In Pierce County, Desmond Wade Jr., 25, and Michkalin Fox, 24, pled not guilty to first degree human trafficking and related charges. They are accused of prostituting a 15-year old girl who had run away from home.

News of General Interest

AEquitas is sponsoring a webinar on investigating and prosecuting trafficking in illicit massage businesses. The first part of the three-part series will be broadcast on April 6 from 3:00 to 4:00 PM EDT. Interested individuals can register by clicking here.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has released the 2015 Michigan Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report which outlines the work of the commission last year.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has established a partnership with the Texas Trucking Association and Truckers Against Trafficking.

Col. Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, testified before a Texas House committee that Mexican cartels are finding that smuggling of humans into the country is becoming more lucrative than drug smuggling and that, frequently, the smuggled individuals are then trafficked by cartel members once they arrive in the United States.

A number of companies have been using data science to identify patterns that lead to information regarding traffickers. Mannus Analytics’s software is being used by 75 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. with its use having led to the rescue of over 120 victims. Operation Underground Railroad uses software to track communications among traffickers and has set up a task force to perform operations across the world where child trafficking is taking place. THORN is a tech-based organization that uses Spotlight which was developed to help attack the sexual exploitation of children in the United States. Spotlight is available free of charge to law enforcement agencies. Data science startup SumAll operates a philanthropic department, SumAll.org, that’s works on various human justice issues, including ending human trafficking.

Indiana has established the Indiana Victim Assistance Program. The program creates five regional coalitions across the state that will identify victim services networks which can respond appropriately to assisting victims of human trafficking.

In February, the Heritage Foundation released an issue brief analyzing the correlation between economic freedom and human trafficking. The report emphasizes that countries with law enforcement and a judicial system free from corruption are key to eradicating trafficking.

The Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio state police joined together to raise awareness about human trafficking. Throughout February, the three agencies held more than 180 educational events for citizens and distributed over 17,000 pieces of information.

The West Linn, Oregon, Police Department held a training for its officers on investigating human trafficking. As a demonstration, police had posted an ad advertising a fictitious 19-year old.. During the class, would-be customers kept calling in response to the ad. One person who called was given the address of the police department as a place to meet for a “tryst.” Officers were surprised when the man actually arrived at the police department. He was cited and released.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has given Washington County, Minnesota, a $125,000 trafficking investigations and training grant.


Judy McKee is the Editor of Human Trafficking Newsletter and may be reached at 202-326-6044. The Human Trafficking Newsletter is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail jmckee@naag.org.

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