Human Trafficking Newsletter March 2017

March 6, 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

Federal

Two new lawsuits have been filed against Backpage.com. One is in Florida, filed by a woman who alleges she was advertised through Backpage and victimized by sex trafficking. That lawsuit is joined by Florida Abolitionist, an Orlando anti-trafficking organization. The second was filed on behalf of Sojourner in Arizona, a nonprofit victims’ resource organization. Both lawsuits cite the findings of a Senate committee that reported that Backpage knowingly profited from prostitution and the sex trafficking of minors. Executives of Backpage have also been named in the lawsuits.

Legislative Action

Federal

Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez have reintroduced S. 3520 , the Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act. Under the bill, no country would be able to be listed on the Tier 2 Watch List for simply promising to make future improvements and congressional oversight of the report would be enhanced.

H.R. 889, The Human Trafficking Fraud Enforcement Act of 2017, has been introduced in the House. If passed, it would require the IRS to create an office to focus on violations of tax laws by persons who are under investigation for conduct relating to the promotion of commercial sex acting and other trafficking in persons crimes. The bill would also increase the criminal monetary penalty limitations for the underpayment or overpayment of tax due to fraud.

State

S.B. 225 is being considered by the California legislature. If passed, the bill would add hotels and motels to those businesses required to post hotline numbers where individuals could report suspected human trafficking activity. Also in California, under a bill introduced in the Assembly, human trafficking victims would be able to be compensated by the state crimes victims fund for the income they lost and for other damages experienced while being victimized.

Two legislators in Florida have introduced SO286. If passed, it would require health education in public schools to include information about human trafficking in the curriculum.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has proposed new legislation to further strengthen Kansas’ laws on human trafficking. S.B. 179 would require all holders of commercial driver’s licenses to have training on the signs of human trafficking, make explicit that a minor cannot consent to trafficking, and make it easier for trafficked minors to qualify for crime victims assistance and expunge convictions arising from their victimization while being trafficked. It would also criminalize the use of an electronic device to facilitate human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation of a child and to knowingly use the internet to trade in child pornography. Finally, the bill would increase penalties for buying sex with minors and for certain other crimes against children.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has proposed S.B. 308, the Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2017. The bill would alter the definition of “sexual abuse” relating to the reporting and investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect to include sex trafficking of a child. A new law is needed to bring the state into compliance with the federal Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.

The Minnesota House is considering a bill that would provide $2.3 million in funding to help sex trafficking victims in Minnesota. HF 714 would be spent to increase the number of shelter beds and resources available to help sex trafficking victims.

H.B. 261 has been introduced in the Missouri legislature. If passed, it would require businesses such as hotels, strip clubs, and transportation hubs to hang posters in common areas that advertise the National Human Trafficking hotline.

Two bills have been introduced in the Montana legislature addressing human trafficking. H.B. 379 would require those who advertise escort services on website to provide a copy of their identifications and the identifications of those being advertised. H.B. 378 clarifies that it is illegal to expose a child to prostitution or to engage in prostitution in front of a child.

The Nebraska unicameral legislature is considering LB 289. If passed, it would increase the penalties for those soliciting sex from trafficked individuals. All minors would be considered trafficking victims.

SB 249 and SB 250 are being considered by the Oregon legislature. SB 249 would allow a person to file a motion to vacate a judgment of conviction for prostitution if the person was a sex trafficking victim at the time of conviction. SB 250 would create an affirmative defense to the crime of prostitution if the arrested defendant were a victim of sex trafficking.

HB 199 has earned the support of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes who testified in support of the bill. It has passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation. The bill addresses “rehoming,” the practice of adoptive parents giving away their adopted children to strangers without any of the normal safeguards, such as home study or background checks. The bill would ensure that prospective adoptive parents of a high needs child receive accurate information concerning the child’s history and training about the kinds of behavior adopted children might exhibit. The bill would make it clear that sending an adopted child to live permanently with a stranger is prohibited.

In Washington, the House of Representatives passed H.B. 1184. The bill would strengthen human trafficking laws by allowing law enforcement to conduct effective sting operations through online transactions. It specifies a person can commit the crime of patronizing a prostitute in more than one location, such as at the place of contact, where money is exchanged, and where the communication is received. S.B. 5030, an agency request bill from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, passed the Senate unanimously. The bill extends the statute of limitations on human trafficking and updates the definition of commercial sex to “anything of value.”

HB 2318 has passed the West Virginia House and is being considered by the Senate. It increases penalties for human trafficking and strengthens the legal definitions of what constitutes human trafficking in the state. It creates felony offenses and penalties for using a person in forced labor, debt bondage, and commercial sexual activity.

Regulatory Action

State

The New Jersey Department of Health is in the process of adopting rules that would require all licensed health care facilities’ employees who interact with patients or guests to take human trafficking awareness training.

State Investigations/Arrests/Prosecution

California

Feb. 16, 2017: Cierra Rose Thompson was charged in 2014 with kidnapping and torturing a woman whom she was pimping in Costa Mesa. She has pled guilty to human trafficking and assault with a deadly weapon and the other charges, including kidnapping and torture, have been dismissed. She will be sentenced on May 26.

Feb. 16, 2017: Ceres detectives had been following up on tips concerning a prostitution ring and an undercover able to make connection, posing as a customer. Four young people arrived at the hotel in a car and one individual exited. Other police followed the car and, after a high-speed chase, was able to stop and detain the passengers. Three individuals – all teenagers – were then arrested on suspicion of trafficking minors. Three supposed victims have been identified, including the 16-year old that was let out of the car. The three individuals in the car – Marcus Lopez, 18, and a 16-year old boy and a 15-year old girl were taken into custody.

Florida

Feb. 14, 2017: Boynton Beach officials have arrested three individuals — Jackson Poinvil, 21, Jimmy Edmond, 26, and Christopher Thomas, 22, — on allegations that they kidnapped a 19-year old woman with the intent to post an ad for her on a social media site advertising sexual services.

Feb. 13, 2017: Two men have been arrested in Miramar in connection with a 17-year old girl who was sold for sex. Andre Raymon Wallace, 42, faces charges including recruiting or harboring or transporting for prostitution, procuring a minor for prostitution and related charges. Robert James Barnett, 26, was charged with procuring a minor for prostitution and various drug charges.

Feb. 3, 2017: In Dade County, two men of Hungarian descent, Gabor Acs and Viktor Berki, were found guilty of running a gay sex trafficking operation in both New York and Florida. They were convicted of human trafficking, conspiracy, and racketeering after luring two young gay men from Hungary through the Gay Romeo web site and a third man through Facebook. The three victims claim that they were forced to engage in prostitution and perform sex acts in front of a webcam and were kept enslaved through isolation, the withholding of their travel documents, and using financial manipulation to keep them in constant debt. The defendants face up to 200 years in prison.

Louisiana

Feb. 16, 2016: Investigators from both federal and state agencies, including from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, have announced the arrests of 35-year old Willie C. Blackmon Jr. and 33 –year old Lindsey Hutto. Both individuals are from Mississippi where Blackman was arrested. Hutto was located and arrested in Alabama. A tip during the summer of 2016 from a juvenile in the Green Oaks Detention Center in Monroe, Louisiana, began an investigation into a possible sex trafficking ring involving Blackmon and Hutto. The investigation has located several child victims and multiple adult victims who were primarily recruited through social media. Blackmon and Hutto await extradition to Louisiana.

Massachusetts

Feb. 17, 2017: An undercover operation by Woburn police has led to the arrest of Antoine Harris on charges of human trafficking. After arranging a “date” with a woman online, police surveillance saw Harris escort a woman into a hotel room that had been registered under his name. When Harris spotted the surveillance, he attempted to leave, but was stopped before he left the parking lot.

Feb. 16, 2017: The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office reported that the four individuals arrested in December on human trafficking charges resulting from operations at massage parlors in western and central Massachusetts (as reported in January’s Human Trafficking Newsletter) have been indicted on charges of human trafficking, prostitution, and money laundering, Feng Ling Liu, 50, and her husband Jian Song, 48, and their daughter Ting Ting Yin, 26, are accused of bringing women to work as prostitutes at parlors they owned in Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Framingham. Shii Li, 52, is accused of transporting women from New York City to work in parlors she owned in Northampton and Agawam.

Feb. 15, 2017: Hendricks Mario Berdet, 31, has been arraigned in Boston Municipal Court on charges of Trafficking in Persons for Sexual Servitude and several counts of distribution of Class A and B substances. According to the investigators from the Attorney General’s office, Berdet allegedly gave drugs to his female victims, posted advertisements on websites, and transported the women to locations in homes and hotels throughout Boston and its environs. He kept the money earned and, in some cases, held the victims’ identification.

Feb. 14, 2017: Two New Hampshire women, Sonya Palic, 46, and Charlotte Napolitano, 45, have been arrested and arraigned in Concord in connection with trafficking women for commercial sex through an online “escort” service. They allegedly provided services in the Northeast, primarily in Massachusetts, but also in New Hampshire and New York. Approximately 112 to 115 women were trafficked through the website chloescompanions.com.

Michigan

Feb. 13, 2017: Up to 15 police agencies took part in a coordinated effort during the Detroit Auto Show to ferret out sex trafficking. Undercover agents made arrests at expensive hotels and inexpensive motels, identifying four to five traffickers and identifying approximately 15 adult victims and two teen-agers.

Minnesota

Feb. 23, 2017: DongZhu Jiang, 28, has been charged in Washington County with sex trafficking, conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking, promotion of prostitution, conspiracy to promote prostitution, and concealing criminal proceeds. According to detectives, Jiang said he is a driver for Asian sex workers, that he “holds” the money for them, and that the women need him because they don’t speak English. A search warrant found over $27,000 in cash in his home.

Mississippi

Feb. 7, 2017: Hernando police were tipped off that a pair of men were traveling with a 17-year old female who had been reported missing. They stopped the car and located the missing teen and took Darnell Davis, 31, into custody. Darnell faces charges for human trafficking, reckless driving, failure to register a vehicle, and driving with a suspended license.

Nebraska

Feb. 2, 2017: Three individuals have been accused of being part of a sex trafficking ring that victimized a 15-year old girl from Lincoln. Darel White, 57, and Amber Brecks, 24, are accused of pandering and Brecks is charged with sexual assault of a minor. Jacqueline Stebbins, 33, who is already in jail on a similar case, was also charged.

Nevada

Feb. 17, 2017: A Michigan man, Akporode Uwedjojevwe, 36, pled guilty to charges of human trafficking involving three women from Michigan that he coerced into going to Reno to work as prostitutes. Uwedjojevwe assaulted one of the women after they had checked into a Reno hotel when she refused to go along with the plan. The woman called 911.

Feb. 16, 2017: Las Vegas police responded to a call from security at the Palms. An 18-year old had left a hotel room in which she was staying, slipping out while two women with her were asleep, and told security she was being held against her will. She had met 25-year old Darryle Alston at a local mall and had sex with him. He then told her she had prostituted herself and when she said she wasn’t interested both he and the two women with him began to pressure her. She started working the strip, had sex with two men, and then asked to be taken back to the Palms where they were staying. Alston, who said he was a songwriter, was arrested along with the two other women, 18 year old Zakeria Arrendondo and 18-year old Nicole Judge. During a pre-booking strip search, over $22,000 was found secreted in condoms inside the women. The three have been charged with sex trafficking and Alston was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, the Maserati which he was driving.

Feb. 13, 2017: Las Vegas police arrested a man and a woman who now face charges of sex trafficking a 16-year old Las Vegas girl. Maurice Fitzgerald, 36 and Saundra Brown, 37, were booked on first-degree kidnapping, trafficking of a minor, sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and conspiracy to commit sexual assault.

New York

Feb. 12, 2017: Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced that Shawn Hawkins, 23, has been charged with sex trafficking, promoting prostitution, and endangering the welfare of a child. The victim was 16 when Hawkins allegedly advertised the girl, demanded she call him “Daddy,” ordered her to work as a prostitute, and beat her when she refused.

North Carolina

Feb. 10, 2017: A high school track and field coach has been arrested in Pender County on charges of human trafficking of a child and one count of soliciting a child by computer.

Ohio

Feb. 27, 2017: Judge Judy Luebbers of the Hamilton County Court of Common Please sentenced Ashley Embry, 27, to eight years in prison on her plea of guilty to a human trafficking charge. She admitted that she forced a woman, who had the cognitive age of a 10 to 12-year old, to smoke crack and engage in prostitution at a Springdale Hotel.

Oklahoma

Feb. 7, 2017: Warrants have been issued for four individuals who are accused of trafficking a minor. Brittany Nicole Ybarra, 22, and Joseph Lamon Jefferson, 40, were arrested by investigators with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations with the assistance of the Altus Police Department. Malcolm Xavier Jefferson, 22, and Andre Dion Jefferson, 21, are not yet in custody. In addition to two counts of human trafficking of a minor and a conspiracy charge, Ybarra has also been charged with violation of Oklahoma laws concerning using a computer to create ads offering prostitution and/or lewd acts.

Utah

Feb. 18, 2017: The Utah Attorney General’s Office announced that Todd Jeremy Rettenberger, 38, pled guilty to charges including human trafficking and related crimes. He was sentenced to one to fifteen years in prison for second-degree felony human trafficking and zero to five years for third-degree felony exploitation of prostitution. The sentences will run concurrently. Rettenberger’s victims were young women whose families he threatened in order to keep them under his control. He also exploited their drug dependencies and threatened them with violence. The case was investigated by the Attorney General’s SECURE strike force and the Bountiful City Police Department.

Other Articles of Interest

In late January, Polaris released its report on 2016 data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, Polaris’ BeFree Textline, and communications referencing overseas cases. Key highlights include that reports of human trafficking in the United States increase every year. There was a 35% jump in 2016 over 2015. There was also a 24% increase in the number of survivors who contacted the Hotline directly. Finally, reports of labor trafficking increased by 47%, but that crime is still widely underreported.

A study by researchers at <href="#from_embed">Arizona State University in cooperation with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department revealed that nearly 75% of the suspected human trafficking cases did not result in a prosecution of the traffickers. The primary reason was uncooperative victims. The study also revealed that 80% of the sex traffickers had criminal histories and nearly 65% of the cases had only a minor as a victim. Overall, the minor victims were less cooperative than the adult victims.

A national sex trafficking sting ended in the arrests of at least 750 would-be sex buyers or sex traffickers. Eighty-six adult victims and six juvenile victims were also located. More than 100 arrests were made in Houston.


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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