Human Trafficking Newsletter November 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

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed an amicus brief, joined by 20 other states, calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal of a Massachusetts case against Backpage.com. In that case, three juveniles who alleged they were advertised on Backpage, filed suit against the website and its operators. The First Circuit dismissed the case, holding that the Communications Decency Act provided protection to websites that passively post third party content.

Legislative Action

Local

The Jackson, Michigan, City Council voted unanimously on a resolution that focuses on educating housing inspectors and other city employees on spotting and reporting the signs of human trafficking within the city.

State Investigations/Arrests/Prosecution

Arizona

Oct. 27, 2016: Prescott Valley police have announced that two men and one woman were arrested after they received a tip from residents. Police found eight young women, one a minor, who had been forced into prostitution for nearly a year. The women were transported around Arizona and into California and required to have sex for money up to 30 times a day. The investigation is ongoing; police have not yet released the names of those arrested.

California

Oct. 27, 2016: Three people were arrested in Vacaville by local police and FBI agents who were conducting a sting operation. A 17-year old girl was rescued. Jonathan Lewis, 32, Tesheya Bird, 22, and Todd Thorton, 23, were charged with human trafficking and associated crimes.

Oct. 23, 2016: Two Rohnert Park foot patrol officers observed three adults and two young girls loitering suspiciously in a motel parking lot. The officers observed that the minors had been furnished with alcohol and drugs. In the meantime, one of the minor’s father had contacted Rohnert Park police to report his daughter missing and, from his online research, thought that she might be in Rohnert Park. Further investigation led to the arrest of Joanna McClenahan, 26, Marilee Romine, 19, and Edwin Prasad Jr., 18, on felony conspiracy and human trafficking of minors as well as some related misdemeanor charges.

Oct. 13, 2016: In Bakersfield, Carl Lewis was sentenced to three years’ probation. He had been involved in the trafficking of three women and a minor. Prior to his sentencing, he had spent 465 days in prison.

Oct. 6, 2016: Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the arrest in Texas of Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer on a California arrest warrant. He has been charged with the felonies of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. The charges are a result of a three-year investigation by the California Department of Justice with assistance from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, California law enforcement agencies, and the federal government. Two other individuals, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, controlling shareholders of the website, have also been criminally charged. (See below for the announcement by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.) All those charged have now posted bail and have been released.

Oct. 6, 2016: Las Angeles authorities have charged a couple with murder, torture, and human trafficking. Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, and Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, were apprehended as they were crossing the border into Mexico in the pedestrian lane. An x-ray examination of the duffel bag Becerra was carrying revealed that it held the body of a 2-year old girl. Becerra and Hartley allegedly trafficked the girl’s mother and severely abused and killed the child sometime around August 9, 2016.

Oct. 5, 2016: Ahmed Daniels, 18, was arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court, charged with holding a 13-year old girl as a prisoner, raping her, and forcing her to work as a prostitute.

Oct. 5, 2016: The Fairfield Police Department and the Suisun City Police Department conducted a human trafficking operation targeted at uncovering minors being advertised on Internet sites.

Florida

Oct. 28, 2016: Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies arrested Katilla Seymour after a 14-year old told them that she was having sexual encounters with men for money. The child had run away from home and sought shelter with Seymour who then took photos of the victim and posted them on the Internet.

Oct. 25, 2016: In an investigation that began in 2013 after Collier County sheriff’s deputies discovered a human trafficking victim during a traffic stop, Joaquin Perez-Urbano, 42, and Paula Rojas-Zarate, 34, have been charged with conspiracy to commit human trafficking, human trafficking, and deriving support from proceeds of human trafficking. The pair was already in jail in Lee County on suspicion of human trafficking and running a brothel. The investigation revealed that dozens of victims were smuggled into the United States with the promise of legal jobs and then forced into prostitution. The victims range in age from 25 to 35. Two other individuals are being sought.

Oct. 19, 2016: Ron Maurice Cooper, 52, who listed his occupation as “preacher,” has been charged with human trafficking and false imprisonment. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office’s Human Trafficking Unit stated that Cooper forced several male teenagers into prostitution, luring them by saying they could make money by modeling. The victims claim that Cooper gave them drugs to make them sexually aroused. Cooper also allegedly sexually assaulted the victims and beat another person in front of them.

Oct. 12, 2016: In Orlando, two people have been arrested and charged with murder of a 14-year old girl. According to police, the 14-year old was taken to a local hospital in the back seat of a car, suffering from a drug overdose. She later died. The murder charges are being brought because the death occurred while the accused were subjecting her (and a 15-year old) to sex trafficking. Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, and Jose Ignacia Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, are being held on no bond. Two other suspects, Arthur Lee Coleman III, 26, and Karla Michelle Quiros Alsina, 20, were arrested later in the month in Georgia. Quiros Alsina was the one who drove the 14-year-old to the hospital.

Georgia

Oct. 26, 2016: In a joint effort among members of the Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force, Andre Jones was arrested for trafficking a 17-year old girl in 2014. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 19 years, to serve 9 years. He had enticed the minor by suggesting she could work to make money to go to college.

Oct. 23, 2016: The Columbia County sheriff’s office task force investigators along with FBI agents identified a potential underage victim on an online advertisement for prostitution. When authorities responded to the ad, they arrested Shunterrio Jacarvin Thomas on human trafficking charges. One of the three victims was not yet 18 and one had just turned 18 recently.

Illinois

Oct. 5, 2016: An investigation after a tip received by Cook County officials has led to a massive nation-wide operation targeting brothels that trafficked Thai women. A lead operator in that criminal enterprise was arrested in Chicago. Pantilla Rodpholka, 31, is described as a “house boss” of the Chicago-area operation, owning one or more brothels where prostitutes met customers. The Thai victims were allegedly forced to pay the leaders of the trafficking ring for debts associated with travel and housing and ringleaders would confiscate the girls’ passports. Arrests have been made in Georgia, California, Hawaii, Illinois, and Minnesota, Due to the nation-wide aspect of the enterprise, the federal government will be handling the prosecutions of these cases.

Oct. 3, 2016: A massage store owner, Yuhua Fan, 53, has been charged with various prostitution-related crimes after Lake County investigators found evidence that she was forcing and/or manipulating two employees to perform sex acts at Acupressure Physical Therapy in Deerfield.

Indiana

Oct. 11, 2016: After a nearly one-year investigation, Indianapolis police, coordinating with Homeland Security, raided seven massage parlors, finding 12 women who are suspected of being victims of sex trafficking. Police suspect that these businesses may be part of a large-scale criminal conspiracy where victims are brought in from China and then transported across the states from parlor to parlor.

Kentucky

Oct. 27, 2016: Two men, Patrick Boston, 27, and Shaon Matthews, 21, who met a 25-year old woman at a halfway house in Bowling Green have been charged with human trafficking. They allegedly demanded that she perform sex acts in exchange for a ride to Oklahoma and advertised her on Backpage.com.

Maryland

Oct. 5, 2016: Following a tip about possible human trafficking, Howard County police found two women and two men going in and out of a hotel room. Further investigation revealed that Prince Q. Torres and Anthony Kenneth Wilson were involved in prostituting two adult women against their will.

Oct. 1, 2016: Frederick City Police, responding to a domestic disturbance call at a local hotel, discovered a young woman who had been reported missing from Texas. Two people have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of human trafficking offenses, Thomas Jones from Texas and Marvin Armstrong from North Carolina.

Massachusetts

Oct. 4, 2016: A Bristol County Grand Jury indicted Donny Sousa, 38, on charges of human trafficking, larceny, assault, and wage theft. He allegedly recruited a couple from Brazil to work for his cleaning company and threatened them with a gun when they asked for the wages they were promised. The matter was referred to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office’s Human Trafficking and Fair Labor Division from the Greater Boston Legal Services.

Minnesota

Oct. 12, 2016: Veterinarian Brian Kersten, 61, pled guilty to running an international sex trafficking ring out of a hotel in Woodbury. His sentencing is scheduled for March.

Montana

Oct. 3, 2016: In Great Falls, Breanna Joy Ingalls, 20, received a three-year deferred sentence and a small fine on her plea of one count of promotion of prostitution. Ingalls was 18 when she was arrested with her co-defendant who was sentenced to 30 years with 20 years suspended.

Nebraska

Oct. 12, 2016: Three people who have been accused of human trafficking are facing additional charges in Sarpy County court. Kylie M. Ray, 19, and Brendan Felt, 20, both face two counts of human trafficking. Their bonds have been each set at $1 million. Jesse Blum, 22, faces three counts of human trafficking and his bond was also set at $1 million. Their alleged victim is 15.

New Jersey

Oct. 14, 2016: Two individuals have been indicted in Morris County on human trafficking charges relating to the sex trafficking of a 15 and a 17 year-old in 2015. Debbie Kooken, 45, and Adolphus Mims, 39, were indicted on four counts of human trafficking and related charges.

Oct. 14, 2016: A Camden County jury convicted Brian Moore of five counts of first-degree human trafficking and six counts of third-degree promoting prostitution. He will be sentenced in December. Investigators identified four women who were being provided drugs in exchange for engaging in prostitution at South Jersey motels.

New Mexico

Oct. 13, 2016: Special agents from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office conducted an undercover investigation involving ads posted on Backpage.com. As a result of that investigation, Tyrone Davis was arrested for promoting prostitution.

New York

Oct. 13, 2016: A joint investigation by New Jersey and Suffolk County, New York, law enforcement has led to the arrest of four individuals -- Selena Boneta, 19, Edwin Boneta, 22, Stepahine Boneta, 23, and Jefferson Contreras, 18– - on human trafficking charges. The arrests were made in New York; the suspects await extradition to New Jersey. Bergen County, New Jersey, police received a report of girls being forced to perform sex acts at a local motel. When questioned, the three teen-agers told police they were transported to the motel for the purpose of prostitution.

Ohio

Oct. 18, 2016: A multi-county human trafficking investigation has led to the arrest of Jinxia Guo, 33, an employee at Jim Massage, for promoting prostitution. Investigators recovered documents during the raid of the massage parlor that, according to Montgomery County officials, substantiate allegations of sex and labor trafficking at the parlor. Further arrests and charges are anticipated.

Pennsylvania

Oct. 11, 2016: In Montgomery County’s first human trafficking conviction, Brian Kieffer, 33, was sentenced to five to ten years in state prison for trafficking a 16-year old girl in 2015. The sentence was the result of a plea agreement entered into to spare the victim from testifying at trial.

Rhode Island

Oct. 3, 2016: Dujuan Harris, 36, faces life in federal prison after he pled guilty to sex trafficking a young girl, bringing her to Rhode Island from Texas. Since he entered his plea, he has been trying to withdraw it arguing that the teen was going to recant her accusations. In fact, at a hearing in July, she did try to recant, but the federal district judge found her not credible. She has now turned over 32 letters to Providence police in which Harris demanded she recant and has told officials that she is frightened of Harris and has been hounded by both phone calls and letters. Providence officials have charged him with attempting to procure perjury, obstruction of the judicial system, and intimidating a witness.

South Dakota

Oct. 5, 2016: After a 16-year old called 911 to report that she needed help, Sioux Falls police arrested Dr. Johnathon Cohen, an ENT doctor, on charges of human trafficking. He allegedly contacted the girl on the website arrangements.com and purchased a ticket for her to fly from Georgia to South Dakota where he initiated sexual relations with her. A $1 million bond has been set for his release.

Texas

Oct. 22, 2016: Harris County District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of Ying Wen on suspicion of human trafficking at a massage parlor she owned and operated in a strip mall on FM 1960. Three young women were removed from the massage parlor and placed in a safe location.

Oct. 13, 2016: In a case that dates back to 2015 in San Marcos, Nancy Cisneros, 43, and Bernell Quillens, 35, were arrested for trafficking a 16-year old. The trafficking occurred while the victim was living with her mother; since the teen had a curfew, she would be picked up while her mother was sleeping or at work. The sex trafficking was discovered after the teen was arrested for shop lifting at Walmart. Cisneros and Quillens have been charged with trafficking a child for sexual purposes.

Oct. 6, 2016: Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that Carl Ferrer, 50, CEO of Backpage.com, was taking into custody on a California arrest warrant after he arrived in Houston on a flight from Amsterdam. Members of the AGO’s Law Enforcement Unit participated in the arrest and also executed a search warrant on the Dallas headquarters of Backpage.

News of General Interest

An international sex trafficking ring that brought women into the United States from Thailand has led to the arrest of about a dozen people in cities across the United States. The organization’s boss was recently arrested in Belgium. Seventeen people were indicted on various counts such as conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit forced labor, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and conspiracy to commit visa fraud. It is alleged that, since 2009, hundreds of women were brought from Bangkok to cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Washington, and Dallas. The women were subject to onerous bondage contracts.

The FBI announced the results of Operation Cross Country, the tenth time that the federal agency has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and law enforcement agencies across the country to target those who sexually traffic children. For the first time, this was also a global effort, with authorities in Cambodia, Canada, the Philippines, and Thailand also participating in tracking down and arresting child sex traffickers in their own countries. Domestically, 82 minors were recovered and 239 traffickers and their associates were arrested.

DOJ released a fact sheet on recent justice department efforts to combat human trafficking.

Established in May 2015, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking is comprised of eleven survivor leaders. Its first report was issued last month and is available on the U.S. State Department’s website. It provides recommendations as to training, public awareness, survivor services, grant making, and labor laws.

In Erie County, New York, Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty and Sheriff Timothy B. Howard joined other county leaders Tuesday to unveil two new public service announcements, one dealing with sex trafficking and one with labor trafficking.

THORN, the project launched by Ashton Kutcher and his ex-wife, Demi Moore, has a software project, free to law enforcement, to assist with investigations of online advertisements. It is designed to provide law enforcement with intelligence and leads about suspected human trafficking networks and individuals.

The characteristics and commonalities demonstrated by female human trafficking survivors and the complexity of assisting them through therapy is the focus of the current issue of Women and Therapy.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Attorney General’s office announced that it has updated their “Introduction to Human Trafficking” online training course. It is available on the FDLE’s website.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s office launched the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force Regional Training. The first training was held in Hastings with 67 people in attendance.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office led a training, in partnership with Truckers Against Trafficking, to assist the members of the Utah Trucking Industry in identifying and reporting possible human trafficking incidents that they witness while driving the nation’s highways.


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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