Human Trafficking Newsletter April 2017

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

State

Under a state law passed in Pennsylvania in 2014, a victim of sex trafficking may sue a hotel for permitting trafficking of a victim in one of its rooms. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of M.B. in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia. The lawsuit alleges that, at the age of 14, M.B. was sold into sexual slavery at the Roosevelt Motel. The victimization lasted for 2 years and involved over 1,000 customers.

In Houston, a similar lawsuit has been filed against the owners of Plainfield Inn by the mother of a sex trafficking victim who was later found dead ten miles away. Janice Charleze alleged that the owners were aware of the illegal activities going on at the motel yet continued to rent rooms to pimps and drug traffickers because it was a lucrative endeavor. Charleze’s daughter, Natalie, was allegedly kept at the Plainfield Inn as part of a sex trafficking operation. City and state officials have sued the Plainfield Inn in the past due to criminal activity at the hotel.

Legislation

Federal

HR 1370, a bill that would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002, would require training programs for appropriate personnel of Homeland Security (including TSA) regarding information that should be recorded in information systems utilized by the department to help identify individuals suspected or convicted of human trafficking, techniques to identify suspect trafficking victims, and utilizing resources to educate stakeholders and increase public awareness.

State

In Alaska, legislatures are considering SB 54. It is designed to change some of the provisions of SB 91 that was passed last summer as an effort to reduce Alaska’s prison population. The bill would implement a set of recommendations from the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, including defining sex trafficking in the fourth degree, to encompass someone who receives compensation for prostitution service rendered by another.

The Arkansas legislature is one of the states that is looking at legislation, HB 1923, that would require the completion of a human trafficking prevention course for the issuance of a Class A Commercial Driver License. In addition there is a bill, HB 2031, which would establish a human trafficking hotline in Arkansas. HB 1417 has passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk. It provides an affirmative defense to solicitation if one is a victim of human trafficking, creates a methodology for impoundment of a motor vehicle, and provides human trafficking awareness education for educators.

Vacating certain offenses from a sex trafficking victim’s record is provided in Arizona SB 1422, which has been signed into law by the Governor.

California legislators have introduced a number of bills. SB 767, 270, and 230 are under consideration. SB 767 would require each county to create a specialized foster placement protocol for child trafficking victims, train foster families taking in these victims, and create a special court to deal with them. SB 230 would let prosecutors bring up a defendant’s past record of sex trafficking as evidence at trial, and SB 270 would require temporary lodging employees to receive training to spot potential trafficking victims and learn how to report potential cases. Two bills, AB 900 and AB 1495, are under consideration by the Assembly. AB 900 would relax the rules surrounding the paperwork victims must submit in order to recover lost income from the state Victims Compensation Fund. The regulations require a letter from the employer, but no trafficking victim would have that information. AB 1495 allows victims and public prosecutors to sue both customers and pimps in civil court.

Colorado HB 1040 passed the legislature unanimously and the Governor has signed it into law. Under the bill, human trafficking would be added to the list of possible crimes for which a judge could authorize an ex parte order to intercept communications once a district attorney or attorney general shows probable cause. HB 1072 would include in the definition of human trafficking for sexual servitude “purchasing” another person or a minor for the purpose of coercing that individual to engage in commercial sexual activity. It would also extend the requirement for a person convicted of sex trafficking of both minors and adults to be placed on the sex offender registry.

SB 930 has been introduced in the Connecticut legislature. It would require annual reports on anti-human trafficking efforts from every state’s attorney and municipal chief of police. These reports would be sent to the Trafficking in Persons Council. HB 7310 increases the penalty for patronizing a prostitute under 18 or who is a victim of human trafficking. SB 1043 would extend confidentiality protections to human trafficking counselors. A sex trafficking survivor testified in favor of HB 7309 which would create a new felony charge of commercial sex abuse of a minor and increases the punishment for sex trafficking. It also directs state officials to develop a plan to provide mental health counseling, substance abuse, and support programs for survivors.

SB 1788 has been introduced in the Florida legislature. It would allow the sealing of court documents to protect the names and identifying information of human trafficking victims. Another bill, HB 1165, provides for a civil cause of action by victims of human trafficking or by the Florida Compensation Trust Fund for Survivors of Human Trafficking against certain defendants. SB 286 would require the revision of the health education curriculum in public schools to include information regarding the signs and dangers of human trafficking.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr commended the passage of HB 341 in the Georgia House that would broaden the definition of human trafficking to include “patronizing” and “soliciting”; increases penalties for sex trafficking, extends the sunset provision of the model notice for the human trafficking hotline, and clarifies provisions regarding the probation portion of a split sentence imposed for certain sexual offenses.

The Hawaii legislature is also considering trafficking education for teachers. SB 836 would allow the Department of Education to offer voluntary training for teachers and education officers on sex trafficking prevention. It has passed the Senate.

SB 40 is being considered by the Kansas legislature. It contains a number of provisions affecting the prosecution of sex trafficking, including prohibiting the knowing or intentional use of a communication facility to facilitate the commission of a felony, but providing an affirmative defense for a person who has done so while being a victim of trafficking. It also expands the definition of human trafficking.

Rep. Peter Lucido has introduced a bill in the Michigan legislature that would allow certified experts to testify about telltale signs of deviant social behavior demonstrated by human trafficking victims. HB 4211 would allow those who have dealt with human trafficking victims to be qualified as an expert. HB 4355 has also been introduced. If passed, it would remove the state’s current grant of immunity to police who have sex with prostitutes during an investigation. HB 4219, has passed the House and is now under consideration by the Senate. The Michigan Human Trafficking Commission recommended this legislation. If passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, victims of human trafficking would have the ability to have a prostitution-related offense that they were forced to commit removed from their criminal record, even if the individual had a prior conviction for such an offense.

A provision in New Hampshire’s HB 94 would prohibit the defense of lack of knowledge of a person’s age to a charge that a person is guilty of a class B felony if the individual pays, agrees to pay, or offers to engage in sexual contact with a person under the age of 18.

AB 243 is under consideration by the Nevada legislature. It would streamline the procedure whereby human trafficking victims could remove convictions by allowing a victim to consolidate convictions such as soliciting and trespassing into one motion that one court could hear. SB 214 is also being considered. Under that bill, people who solicit sex from children under 14 would be charged with trafficking.

Oklahoma’s legislature has before it SB 34. It would prohibit a defense of lack of knowledge of the age of a victim if one is being prosecuted on charges of sex trafficking a minor.

The ability to erase a conviction for prostitution if, when convicted, the individual was a victim of human trafficking is being considered by the Oregon legislature in SB249.

The Rhode Island Senate is considering a bill, S421, that would require the National Human Trafficking Resource Center contact be posted at truck stops and other targeted establishments. Also in Rhode Island, bill H5411 was introduced which would require transparency in the supply chain for imported goods. That legislation was drafted by members of an anti-human trafficking student group at Brown University,

On March 17, 2017, the Utah legislature passed two bills that will help address human trafficking in Utah. HB 274 strengthens Utah's Human Trafficking statute and creates a path for victims convicted of crimes they committed under force, fraud, or coercion, to have those convictions vacated and removed from their criminal records. HB 199 implements safeguards to protect adopted children from “rehoming,” the illegal practice of adoptive parents giving their adopted children away to strangers without the usual home study or background checks performed to protect children. The bill was proposed after a two-year study by a national committee, including the Utah Attorney General's Office, set up by the Department of State to create model legislation to address this unlawful and dangerous practice. Both bills have been signed into law by the Governor.

In West Virginia, the Governor has signed HB 2318 into law. It would require those who have been found guilty of sex trafficking to be placed on the state’s sex offender registry.

State Investigations/Arrests/Prosecution

California

Mar. 31, 2017: Derrick Harper, 39, was convicted on kidnapping for extortion, aiding and abetting rapes, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, and related offenses. He was accused of directing three friends to rape a prostitute because she broke one of his rules. The kidnapping for extortion charge related to his holding a woman against her will with the ultimate intent of pimping her. Three women testified against him who worked for him as prostitutes; they were also heavy methamphetamine users at the time of the victimization. A fourth woman testified that Harper had raped her. Authorities characterized the case as the worse sex trafficking case in Contra Costa’s history

Mar. 30, 2017: Defung Hu, 33, characterized as a dispatcher for a sex trafficking ring victimizing Chinese women, pled guilty to human trafficking charges and was sentenced to 11 years. She is the fifth defendant to plead guilty in the case, according to Ventura County officials.

Mar. 26, 2017: Ventura police, responding to a call from the National Human Trafficking Center, found a 17-year old girl hiding near a hotel. She told police that she had been forced into prostitution in San Diego ad that she had been threatened if she did not comply. After taking the teen to a shelter, investigators observed three men at the hotel who left in a car patrol officers were watching. A traffic stop led to the arrest of Brian Kattrel Lewis, 21, Dashawn Marquese Jackson, 18, and Dameon Rasheed Howard, 20, from Fresno. A loaded handgun was found in the car. The men have been booked on felony human trafficking and conspiracy charges and Lewis faces a weapons charge.

Mar. 22, 2017: The leader of a sex trafficking ring in Tulare County was sentenced to 40 years in state prison. He is the first person sentenced in Operation Baby Face. Antonio Alvarez, 44, was arrested in August after authorities broke up the ring that had snared 13 women and men. Alvarez pled no contest to human trafficking of an adult and six counts of human trafficking of a minor, along with other associated felonies. Alvarez set up a Facebook page pretending to be “Rebecca Rodriguez,” a prostitute living a glamorous life as a method to lure women and girls to send in photos of themselves and then saying he would take them to meet the “boss.” Two other men were also sentenced, Anthony Raya, 19, was sentenced to three years for pimping and Joel Mancini, 40, was sentenced to a year in jail for being an accessory after the fact and for unlawful sex with a minor.

Mar. 16, 2017: In Santa Clara County, Quanzell Butcher, 22, and Tyairra Beasley, 19, have been arrested and charged with human trafficking and pimping of a minor. The investigation began when Sheriff’s Office transit deputies in San Jose became suspicious that a teenager in a car might be a human trafficking victim. Officials determined that the girl was reported missing in San Diego in 2016. When questioned, the girl said that Butcher and Beasley had offered to help her return home but then forced her into performing sex acts for their financial benefit. Beasley was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and a probation violation.

Mar. 7, 2017: A sting conducted by the Human Trafficking Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office led to the arrest of four men on suspicion of arranging to meet a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd behavior. It took only 47 seconds for officials to receive the first phone call after undercover officers posted on social media.

Mar. 7, 2017: A human trafficking awareness presentation at Shadow Hills High School in Indio led to a tip from two students who told officials that a person on Facebook, a Marlissa Garcia, had attempted to recruit them for prostitution. This information led to an investigation that eventually revealed up to 69 potential victims. Investigators also discovered that the IP address led back to Eliberto Cruz Jacobo, 46. Jacobo is now on trial in Riverside County Superior Court, facing 62 felony counts, including human trafficking of a minor, inducing or persuading a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, statutory rape, and possession of child pornography.

Mar. 7, 2017: The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office undercover investigation led to the arrest of ten people and the rescue of an adult and a juvenile female on the first day they were subjected to sex trafficking. Among those arrested are two individuals who were charged with contacting a minor 15 years of younger with the intent to commit a sex offense; Eric Hernandez, 18, who was charged for sex trafficking a minor, and Brittany Kanpp, 27, who was charged with supervising prostitution.

Mar. 2, 2017: In Sonoma County, Sammy David Estrada, 25, and Carlos Raymond Martinez, 20, were sentenced after pleading no contest to charges of trafficking a 22-year old and a 15-year old. An investigation began after they had a traffic accident in Santa Rosa while driving the two women. Estrada was sentenced to eight years in prison and Martinez was sentenced to five years.

Colorado

Mar. 24, 2017: An Arapahoe County jury has found Brock Franklin, 31, guilty on 30 criminal counts, including human trafficking of a minor, pimping a child, patronizing a prostituted child, and kidnapping. He was indicted by a statewide grand jury in November 2015. He was the ringleader of a sex trafficking ring. The case included six co-defendants.

Mar. 19, 2017: After a lengthy investigation by Larimer County officials and the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force in Denver, Durrell Bumphus was booked into Larimer County jail on several charges related to human trafficking. He is alleged to have victimized two women, one an adult and one a 16-year old in 2015.

Mar. 6, 2017: In Aurora,Sean Travis Crumpler will be sentenced to 50 years in prison in May after he pled guilty to three counts of human trafficking of a minor for the purpose of sexual servitude. He lured young men by providing shelter, food, alcohol, clothes, and food, with the understanding that Crumpler would have sex with them whenever he desired. Some of the young men had been tattooed with Crumpler’s name. Two other men, Coddie Favala and Ricardo Barron, also pled guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and agreed to cooperate in Crumpler’s prosecution. They transported the minors to Colorado, knowing that they were for Crumpler’s sexual servitude. They will be sentenced to six years of probation.

Connecticut

Mar. 31, 2017: In Danbury, the FBI and local police arrested three men who allegedly exploited young men with mental health issues in a sex trafficking ring. The victims are said to have been delivered to “wealthy clients” throughout the state for prostitution purposes. The arrests occurred after an investigation lasting a year, but police believe that the sex trafficking ring may have been operating for decades. Brue Bemer, 63, and William Trefzger, 71, were recently arrested and Robert King had been previously arrested, charged with witness tampering and promoting prostitution.

Florida

Mar. 22, 2017: A woman contacted police when she was notified by her daughter’s school that she was missing from her special needs class. The mother didn’t know where she was, but the victim’s sister said she was being advertised on Backpage. Further investigation led police to Room 230 at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Jacksonville. After talking to the manager, police obtained a search warrant and found the victim in the room with bruises on her legs and face. Two people were arrested, Demonte Clark, 25, and Tamia Oliver, 20.

Mar. 21, 2017: Police in Polk County ran a six-day long undercover investigation, “March Sadness,” which targeted those who either advertised online for sex or who responded to internet-based advertisements set up by undercover officers. Fifty-one people soliciting sex were arrested, including an Air Force captain stationed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Thirty-eight arrested were those being advertised, many of whom investigators believe may be victims of human trafficking.

Mar. 9, 2017: Seven people have been arrested in Miami-Dade County on human trafficking charges. A 16-year old girl and a young mother with a baby were among the victims rescued. Alexander Brown, 33, and Jakeara Peak 20, brought the 16-year old to South Florida from Vero Beach and groomed her how to become a prostitute. When police knocked on the door, the girl answered in the nude. Others arrested in separate operations include Kudirka Cureton, 44. He was arrested after he allegedly beat a woman after he lured her to travel to Florida from North Carolina on the promise of a free Disney vacation with her baby. Once she got there, she was beaten and told she would have to prostitute herself.

Georgia

Mar. 24, 2017: A Fulton County grand jury has indicted Kendric Roberts, 33, on 15 counts, including trafficking a person for labor servitude, six counts of false imprisonment, two counts of possession of a firearm during commission of or attempt to commit certain crimes and one count of participation in criminal street activity. He was arrested earlier this month after a 911 call from an expensive home in Sandy Springs, led to the recovery of eight women who were allegedly being held at the home against their will. The call came from a 20-year old woman who had met the suspect on the dating website, Seeking Arrangements. She alleged that he forced her to have plastic surgery and was requiring the women to dance for money. She also said she wanted to leave but was afraid she would be killed if she tried. When Roberts was arrested, he was charged with false imprisonment and labor trafficking. In a later preliminary hearing, a judge dismissed the trafficking charges for lack of probable cause, but sustained the false imprisonment charges. He commented that he didn’t know whether he was hearing a civil case regarding breach of contract or a criminal trafficking and false imprisonment case, but that the district attorney could get additional charges indicted through the grand jury which, in fact, occurred.

Mar. 16, 2017: Bibb County Sheriff’s officers, with the assistance of U.S. Marshalls, arrested Najiy Williams, 34, on charges of rape and sex trafficking. A February sex assault investigation that began at an area Greyhound Bus station led to the arrest. Investigators learned that a woman there alleged that she had been kept in a room at the Roadway Inn in Macon by a man, known as “King,” who had forced her into prostitution. A subsequent search warrant found four other women at the hotel who also reported being trafficked.

Indiana

Mar. 15, 2017: Three women who had been accused of forcing a teenaged girl into prostitution have struck a plea agreement with prosecutors. The investigation began last October when Indianapolis police officers were called to a home for a domestic incident. A 17-year old girl told officers that she no longer wanted to live with her court-appointed guardian because she had slapped her. Later interviews with Department of Child Services personnel revealed that her guardian, Ciera Beauchamp, had pushed the girl into prostitution. Under the plea deal, Ciera will plead guilty to promoting prostitution and will serve six years, with four suspended and two served on GPS-monitored home detention. Two other co-defendants, Ciera’s sister Brandi, and Ciera’s girlfriend, Ashley Breedlove, who also were involved, but to a lesser degree, will serve two years and one year, respectively, on probation after pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Kansas

Mar. 31, 2017: Seventeen year-old Hope Joy Zeferjohn of Topeka pled guilty to aggravated human trafficking in a scheme developed with her boyfriend to lure a 14-year old into sex trafficking. As part of the plea, 11 other chargers were dismissed. Zeferjohn must register as an offender. The victim was at a church youth group meeting when she met Zeferjohm in 2015. They then kept in connection on social media and Zeferjohn introduced her to Anthony Long. Long communicated with the victim, eventually telling her that he was going to train her so she could perform sexually with other men. Long also threatened her family. The victim told her parents about the scheme. Zeferjohn will be sentenced in June and faces six years or longer in prison.

Louisiana

Feb. 28, 2017: A man cited for boating violations in St. Bernard Parish was found to have an active warrant out for his arrest out of Orleans Parish since October 2016. He was wanted for trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

Maryland

Mar. 4, 2017: When Howard County police made a stop for what they thought was a medical emergency, they found instead a suspect who was allegedly holding women hostage and using them as prostitutes. When police pulled over William Murray, 29, they discovered a 34-year old woman in his car who was a human trafficking victim. Investigators believe Murray may have been trafficking as many as eight other women and shopping them on the internet. He is accused of using heroin to control the women and limiting when they slept or ate. Murray has been charged with both human trafficking and prostitution-related counts.

Massachusetts

Mar. 24, 2017: Attorney General Maura Healey announced that 31-year old Hendricks Mario Berdet, aka Capo, Supa Capo, and Supa Mario, was indicted by a Statewide Grand Jury on 12 counts of Trafficking in Persons for Sexual Servitude, 10 counts of Deriving Support from Prostitution, 5 counts of Intimidation of a Witness, and one count of Rape. Also indicted was David Rivera, 27, on four counts in connection with his alleged role in transporting the women for commercial sex. An investigation revealed that Berdet allegedly supplied multiple women with drugs, including heroin and cocaine, in exchange for their engaging in commercial sexual activity for his personal profit.

Mar. 15, 2017: A former Yarmouth police officer, Richard Morrison, has been charged with sex trafficking, two counts of enticing a child under 16, and related crimes. The charges resulted after an investigation by Barnstable County Children’s Cover, a child advocacy organization, and Yarmouth police. He has pled “not guilty.”

Michigan

Mar. 31, 2017: Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that Jonathon Colon of Bronx, New York, was sentenced to prison for 3 to 10 years after he pled guilty earlier in March with operating a human trafficking scheme in Oakland and Macomb counties. An investigation revealed that Colon was conducting an online “escort” operation, advertising two women on-line for commercial sex. The victims, staying at Detroit-area motels, were forced to turn over the money from commercial sex acts and Colon would provide them with highly addictive drugs.

Mar. 27, 2017: Tracey Allen Lockett has been sentenced to 3-12 years in state prison after he pled guilty in January to human trafficking/labor trafficking. He forced his girlfriend to prostitute herself to support his drug habit. He was sentenced as a habitual four-time offender. This was the first human trafficking prosecution in Muskegon County.

Mar. 23, 2017: Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that he has charged Amber Speed, 40, of Lansing with multiple felonies, including Minor Sex Trafficking, Pandering, Accepting the Earning of a Prostitute, and Debt Bondage. The case was initiated by a Michigan State Police Trooper who had attended a human trafficking training. Speed was allegedly conducting an “escort” operation, posting advertisements online for herself and at least three other girls and young women online. She allegedly trafficked minors online from 2009 through 2014.

Mar. 23, 2017: Nineteen year old Tremaine Woodall was bound over for trial on four felony charges related to his alleged operation of a sex trafficking scheme, according to a press release from Attorney General Bill Schuette. Charges were filed after the Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes task force received a tip about a minor being prostituted out of a Macomb County hotel. Investigators subsequently located another alleged victim.

Mar. 15, 2017: A Saginaw County husband and wife, Melvin Pully, 56, and Meleney Pully, 37, have been charged with human trafficking of a minor. The Sheriff’s Department received a tip of a teenager who might be in danger and located her in a hotel room in Saginaw County. The Pullys were with her in the room. According to investigators, the Pullys gained the trust of the child, who was a runaway, and then prostituted her to gain money for their drug habits.

Minnesota

Mar. 29, 2017: Four people have been charged in Washington County court in connection with what prosecutors call a “sophisticated” international human trafficking ring.Dongzhou Jiang, 28, of Blaine, was the only Minnesotan charged. The other three defendants live in California: Hong Jing, 48, Sophia Wang Navas, 49, and Fangyao Wu, 23. All four face charges of racketeering, sex trafficking, promotion of prostitution, concealing criminal proceeds, and engaging in the business of concealing criminal proceeds. An investigation uncovered an international sex trafficking conspiracy that trafficked Chinese nationals for the purpose of prostitution across the country, including in Minnesota. Investigators connected the criminal enterprise to thousands of ads for sexual services placed on Backpage.com in 29 different states over the past two years. Authorities accused the perpetrators of brutalizing the victims, forcing them to work 12 to 14 hours a day, and requiring them to bring in a daily quota of $800. A bank account belonging to one of the defendants recently had a balance of more than $850,000.

Mar. 17, 2017: Ramsay County District Judge Leonardo Castro sentenced Daryl Taylor to 28 years in prison on one count of promoting prostitution and two counts of engage in sex trafficking. He pled guilty in January following a bench trial. Prosecutors say he lured a 22-year old into the sex trafficking scheme after selling her heroin. Another victim, a 17-year old, was befriended by Taylor’s then-girlfriend and then victimized. A third woman, a 33-year old mother and former social worker, went to a party an ended up working as a prostitute. Taylor threatened one of the victims with a gun and choked her until she passed out and bashed the 33-year old woman’s head repeatedly against a window ledge when she wanted to leave. He also provided cocaine, heroin, and alcohol to the victims. Taylor’s former girlfriend was also charged, but a jury failed to reach a verdict in her case.

Mar. 8, 2017: In Minnesota’s first labor trafficking case, a Baldwin, Wisconsin, veterinarian, Brian Lee Kersten, 61, was sentenced after he pled guilty last fall to two felony counts of engaging in the sex trafficking of a person and aiding and abetting labor trafficking. He admitted he transported women from China to a motel in Woodbury. The ADA prosecuting the case, Imran Ali, said that Kersten was part of an international conspiracy to bring women from abroad to the U.S. to work as prostitutes and to work at massage parlors. He was sentenced to 48 and 53 months with the sentences to be served concurrently.

Nebraska

Mar. 11, 2017: A senior at Bellevue West High School, a member of the football team that won the state championship last fall, has been charged with human trafficking. No other details about the case have been revealed.

New Hampshire

Mar. 23, 2017: In Manchester, Gregory Worthley, 28, was sentenced in Hillsborough County Superior Court on two counts of trafficking in persons. He was sentenced to two to four years in prison after pleading guilty. The investigation was led by Immigration, Customers and Enforcement officials.

New Jersey

Mar. 8, 2017: A man from Bridgeton, Marcus Tukes, 47, was indicted by an Atlantic County Grand Jury for sex trafficking two adults and a minor as well as child endangerment and possession of cocaine. He was released from prison last August after spending two years on his conviction of promoting prostitution and drug dealing.

New York

Mar. 9, 2017: A Queens Grand Jury has indicted Lee Vargas, 32, and Elizabeth O’Sullivan, 49, on 22 counts, including sex trafficking, kidnapping, assault, intimidating a witness, and promoting prostitution. Vargas and O’Sullivan are alleged to have brought the victim to Queens after picking her up in Massachusetts, telling her that they were going to give her work as a stripper and dancer. Instead, they forced her into sex trafficking and Vargas is accused of repeatedly choking and slapping her. She was eventually able to reach out to family members who contacted police.

North Carolina

Mar. 20, 2017: A Winston-Salem resident,Flora Riano Gonzalez, 39, was indicted on charges that she engaged in child sex trafficking of a girl between Jan. 15, 2011, and Jan. 15, 2014.

Mar. 7, 2016: Two women being transported in a vehicle from South Carolina to North Carolina called the Human Trafficking Hotline, fearing for their safety. A Rocky Mount policeman located the car and placed them in protective custody. The drive, Philtece Joel Harrison, 36, was questioned and released but a subsequent investigation led police to take out warrants for her arrest. She has been charged with human trafficking of an adult victim, promoting prostitution, and sexual servitude of an adult victim. Police expect more arrests.

North Dakota

Mar. 10, 2017: Police in Grand Forks and Fargo ran an undercover operation targeting adults who wanted to have sex with minors. One arrest occurred in Grand Forks and eight in Fargo. The ages of the men arrested ranged between 21 and 47.

Oklahoma

Mar. 21, 2017: In Tulsa,Morgan Palmer, also known as Pickboo Suuwop, was convicted of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a child, sex trafficking of a child, and obstruction of enforcement. The charges stemmed from a ring involving Josh "Maniak" Harring, Palmer's alleged boyfriend. She helped him recruit girls to use for sex trafficking. She was sentenced to 10 years.

Tennessee

Mar. 31, 2017: In what is believed to the first trial of its kind in Williamson County, a jury convicted Eric Hamilton, 26, of trafficking for a commercial sex act. He was also convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault. He was arrested in April 2016 after Brentwood police responded to a domestic assault call at the Extended Stay America on Church Street.

Mar. 23, 2017: Jennifer Engles, 34, of Willow Springs, is scheduled to go to trial in July on felony charges of sexual trafficking of a child less than 12 years of age and endangering the welfare of a child. Investigators reports state that Engles allegedly had sex with men for money in view of a child younger than 12 while, at the same time, her husband, Ernest, engaged in sex acts with the child. Ernest was sentenced to life in prison.

Texas

Mar. 17, 2017: In Houston, 19-year old Denise Coronado has been arrested and charged with compelling prostitution. A 14-year old girl told authorities that she was pulled into a van and kept in the woods for five days and then taken to a Houston motel where she met Coronado. She alleged that she was threatened, burned with a cigarette, and made to engage in prostitution.

Mar. 15, 2017: Scott Rodney Robinson was convicted of aggravated compelling of prostitution and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. According to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Robinson forced his 16-year old daughter into prostituting herself at truck stops and had her turn over her earnings to him. According to his daughter, he was upset that she was having sex and told her if she was going to act like a prostitute, he was going to treat her as one. He also advertised her on websites.

Mar. 7, 2017: Two men in Tyler, James Ellis, 21, and Quintus Blaylock, 24, have been indicted on child sex abuse and trafficking charges. They are alleged to have tried to force two teenage girls into prostitution at a local hotel. The investigation began as a credit card abuse case last December; a stolen credit card had been used to rent a hotel room. When police served a search warrant on the hotel room, they discovered two young girls, 14 and 15, hiding in the bathroom. One of the girls told investigators that she had been brought from Dallas to engage in private exotic dancing for money and she convinced a friend to go with her. When they arrived in Tyler, they went to Blaylock’s residence where he had sex with one of the girls and took pictures of them in their underwear. They were then told there were going to have sex with clients for money. Investigators found text messages that corroborated the girls’ story.

Mar. 3, 2017: Anthony Gardner has been charged by the Harris County District Attorney’s office with the crime of “continuing trafficking of persons.” He also faces one charge of aggravated promotion of prostitution and two counts of compelling prostitution by force. According to the charges, Gardner forced eight women, including two minors, to work for him in Houston.

Virginia

Mar. 25, 2017: Jasmine Campbell pled guilty this month to charges of sex trafficking. She provided at least two women with drugs in order to get them to have sex with paying clients at local hotels. Also this month, a grand jury indicted Naeem Odums who is accused of exploiting a woman for nine years before she was rescued. In January, he evidently beat her so badly that he broke three of her ribs and punctured a lung. Both of these cases were brought about through the efforts of the Virginia Attorney General’s Human Trafficking task force.

Mar. 17, 2017: Two men have been arrested in Henrico County and charged with sex trafficking and prostitution. The charges involve trafficking underage girls. Henry Edward Awan, 21, had admitted to pimping out his teenage girlfriend because, according to him, they were desperate to provide for their infant son. He was charged with six felony counts of commercial sex trafficking and three counts of prostitution-keep/reside bawdy place. Duball Shabad Dubose 44, was arrested and charged with six felony counts of commercial sex trafficking of a person younger than 18.

Other Articles of Interest

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi introduced a resolution at the meeting of the Florida Governor and Cabinet to honor Uber’s efforts to educate its drivers to help prevent human trafficking.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette released the 2016 Michigan Human Trafficking Report.

The University of Louisville unveiled a Youth Experiences Survey that studied homeless youth, aged 12-25, during two weeks last October. The study found that 40 percent of the youth were victims of sex trafficking, mostly in exchange for money or lodging. Seventy percent of those trafficked reported that technology was used as part of their victimization.

A researcher at the University of Houston-Downtown, Rebecca Pfeiffer, partnered with the Houston Police Department to help officers spot human trafficking cases to distinguish them from prostitution. According to her report, the most common indicators of human trafficking were victims under 18, people who used coercion tactics, and depriving victims of alternatives.

PENNDot is training employees at driver’s license centers to look out for indications of human trafficking.

An article in the Boston Herald explores the connection between the opioid crisis and sex trafficking.

The Maine Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has released its report Human Trafficking in Maine. The report suggests the need for the enactment of two new laws by the Maine legislature, one to remove criminal convictions for survivors of trafficking and the other to create a safe harbor law for minors. The report also urges the state to provide adequate services for survivors of trafficking.


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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NAGTRI offers high-quality, responsive and innovative trainings.

Research & Newsletters

NAGTRI produces comprehensive research and newsletters on topical legal issues.