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St. Paul Man Sentenced to 43 Years for Largest Sextortion Case in FBI History

September 22, 2022

ST PAUL, Minn. — Editor’s note: The video above first aired on KARE 11 on June 15, 2022.

Three months after pleading guilty to a massive sextortion scheme, 31-year-old Yue Vang was sentenced to more than four decades in prison.

At the federal courthouse in St. Paul Wednesday, Judge Eric Tostrud handed down Vang’s 43-year sentence. Vang, who’s from St. Paul, was initially charged with two counts of production of child pornography, one count of possession of child pornography, and one count of interstate communications with intent to extort.

“Mr. Vang’s conduct was calculated and cruel. It caused unbounded and everlasting harm,” Judge  Tostrud said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2015 through 2020 Vang “adopted the personae of real minor girls” and posed as real people to get other young victims to produce and send him child pornography. When they refused, Vang threatened to and did release their sexually explicit images and videos.

“This is the largest sextortion case in the country,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brenda Born.

Read the full story by Alexandra Simon on Kare 11.

Bumblebee Tuna Not as Wholesome as Company Claims

September 14, 2022

Major US seafood brand Bumble Bee is suspected of having environmentally harmful illegal fishing and human rights abuse in its supply chain, according to a new investigative report by Greenpeace East Asia. The American brand, owned by Taiwanese tuna traders FCF, has long worked to establish its reputation as “champions for sustainable fishing and dedicated advocates for fishers.” However, the “Fake My Catch – the unreliable traceability in our tuna cans” report uncovers information that shows that by sourcing seafood from vessels that are suspected of labor and human rights abuses, the company is failing to deliver on its promises to American consumers.

Washington, DC (August 30, 2022)Major US seafood brand Bumble Bee is suspected of having environmentally harmful illegal fishing and human rights abuse in its supply chain, according to a new investigative report by Greenpeace East Asia.

The American brand, owned by Taiwanese tuna traders FCF, has long worked to establish its reputation as “champions for sustainable fishing and dedicated advocates for fishers.” However, the “Fake My Catch – the unreliable traceability in our tuna cans” report uncovers information that shows that by sourcing seafood from vessels that are suspected of labor and human rights abuses, the company is failing to deliver on its promises to American consumers.

Mallika Talwar, a Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said: “We are not surprised at the high level of disparity between what Bumble Bee tells US consumers and what was uncovered in this investigation. Bumble Bee claims to be for people and the planet, but what we see in this report is a company skirting its responsibilities in order to make a profit. Instead of disclosing a list of all their supply vessels, they have used smokescreens such as the Trace My Catch program to fake transparency while leaving it up to consumers to dig up information on an incredibly complex and opaque supply chain. Even then, as this report shows, there is no guarantee the information Bumble Bee shares is correct. That is not what real transparency looks like.”

The “Fake My Catch – the unreliable traceability in our tuna cans” report finds that over 10% (13) of the 119 Taiwanese-flagged/owned vessels identified in the sampling that supplied Bumble Bee had violated Taiwanese fishery regulations and were on the Taiwan Fisheries Agency’s (TFA) illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) list. Further, indicators of forced labor were identified in the reports of fishers that worked aboard six of the vessels that supplied Bumble Bee and FCF.[1] Catch from Taiwanese-owned vessel Da Wang, whose crew were indicted for their involvement in forced labor and human trafficking, has been used to supply Bumble Bee – raising concerns that seafood tainted with forced labor has already been sold in the US market. Additionally, one migrant fisher died whilst working on Da Wang after an accident occurred – reportedly causing the other workers to quit due to the excessive physical abuse they endured. A Bumble Bee product sourced from this fishing vessel was found to be available for sale at a Harris Teeter (a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger Co.) in Arlington, Virginia.

Read the full story on Green Peace

August, 2022 Monthly Reflection

August 1, 2022

Why not use the word “slavery” when referring to trafficking?

Sister Michelle Loisel, DC

Picture by Martha Dansberger

Over the past few months, there have been several articles written and discussions at webinars I have attended on the words “slavery” and “trafficking.”

It is common in the anti-trafficking field (either in campaigns or in policy) to link colonial slavery with human trafficking by reference to “modern slavery.”

These terms have been used by several organizations and individuals who were unaware of the deeper meaning of this terminology with regard to the victims. “Technical definitions of ‘slavery’ and ‘human trafficking,’ as well as related concepts like forced labor, child labor, and bonded labor differ slightly legally, but there are enormous overlaps between them. Many of these terms are commonly used interchangeably, as ultimately, they all involve practices that exploit or abuse someone physically or psychologically for profit.”

We must place ourselves here in the historical American context and see if slavery has indeed ended. Another point is that historical slavery was legal, certainly inhuman but legal, human trafficking is not. In this same context, slavery is based on race, exploitation is based on rape culture, abuse, and sexism.

Unfortunately, while “slavery” is eye-grabbing and makes awareness easy, it paints a problematic picture of human trafficking. Human trafficking and historical slavery in the U.S. have similarities, however, framing like this is troubling as they are not the same (National Survivor Network, 2019).

This language minimizes historical enslavement of African people and the multi-generational trauma and resulting impact. It can also be harmful to survivors, as it paints an inaccurate picture of many trafficking experiences.

It should be noted that now, chattel slavery and the slave trade are now illegal in every country in the world and under international law (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). However, estimates say there are more people trapped in conditions of modern slavery today than there were slaves, even when slavery was legal.

Survivors to whom I spoke of human trafficking do not connect their experiences with “slavery” and certainly would not identify as “slaves” We can recognize that other survivors may identify with this term, and we can acknowledge their individual right to self-identify. We also are aware that using this terminology may make it harder for some who have been trafficked to recognize and acknowledge the exploitation perpetrated against them. As advocates, we cannot cease to be vocal and address the reality that victims of trafficking in the United States are disproportionately people of color.

In the context, we are living today including the historical context we understand that associating the crime of human trafficking with chattel slavery can be harmful for African American. Slavery and human trafficking are not equal experiences; to use the same term “slavery” to describe two separates but equally brutal injustices may not be accurate. There is a glaring discrepancy between the way powers have addressed slavery in the past and present and we need to recognize the ways nations have exploited and oppressed people of color.

This reflection led me to a moment of pause and self-reflection and allowed me to realize the power of words. Why do I use this language? Who is it benefitting? And more importantly, who is it harming?

July, 2022 Monthly Reflection

July 7, 2022

Land of the Brave? Yes. Home of the Free? Not really.

Theresa Flores

July has always been one of my favorite months. My family always held our annual Family Reunion on the 4thof July in Indiana and got together each year with those with whom we shared a blood bond. It felt safe, you didn’t need to explain yourself and it was fun to find out how similar we all were and what common traits we all held. Not to mention the amazing food like tomato pie, popcorn right from the field, fresh walnuts, pickled eggs (not my favorite) and even homemade wine—all freshly made by our farm family members. But as I sit here reflecting on my own family, so many of them lost in the past several years and knowing that it will never be the same again, I recall all the hundreds of survivors of Human Trafficking who I have met—many of them who have never been to a family reunion. They have never spent time running around a field with sparklers, water gun fights with cousins and crazy uncles, eating homemade ice cream they helped churn, or even going to a parade. Approximately 40% of survivors are trafficked by family members and when they are fortunate enough to escape, many are forced to leave their entire family.

In July, while we celebrate FREEDOM, most people don’t realize that there are still many who have never known what this word means. Victims of trafficking, enslaved to the will of others, including those not being paid for hours of back-breaking work in a tomato field, those being forced to do more than massages in a massage parlor, and children used as objects of gratification—none of them know freedom. Yes, right here in America. Victims and survivors of trafficking are certainly representative of who we are referencing when we talk about the Home of the Brave, but they are certainly not experiencing the Land of the FREE.

As we sit and watch a 20-minute firework display (on which thousands of dollars were spent), chatting with an aunt we haven’t seen in years, going up to the buffet line of the 4th of July potluck picnic, most of us don’t stop to question if the worker who harvested the tomatoes on the table was paid a fair price for his work, or if the shrimp was harvested by an ethical company. We take for granted the word Freedom and believe All are free. But unfortunately, this isn’t true.

My family moto on our crest reads “Justice Will Prevail.” I know this to be true in my bones but there were plenty of times I doubted it. Especially while being sold to men and forced into debt bondage as a teenager. Although my faith remained strong, even during the worst of the times, there were many occasions, even after escaping, that I wondered if this was really true. My attempts to prosecute the traffickers led to dead ends, finding qualified counseling to help me heal the trauma was fruitless, and I had no one to talk to about what I endured who could possibly understand.

So, what does justice look like to me now? To an Irish Catholic, middle aged woman (ok, maybe a little older than that) who once was not free? It looks like this: stronger laws in every state (with law enforcement and judges who will enforce them) to help stop the Demand for sex for sale, tougher penalties against the traffickers but also the perpetrators- the buyers. It looks like services for survivors who need a bed, trained counselors, drug addiction help, being reunited with the children that were taken from them, dental help for the teeth they lost at the hands of their traffickers, programs for gay youth who are kicked out of their homes and are now vulnerable and ‘sitting ducks’, and many good lawyers who will help survivors get restitution and their records erased.

Freedom isn’t Free. It requires a lot. It requires more than us dressing up in an “America is Great” t-shirt, eating our apple pie and going to see fireworks. It requires strong men uniting to fight against this injustice instead of being a part of the problem and being brave enough to call it out for what it is to other men. It means that we will view prostitution as an oppression instead of a profession.

It requires what it once did- fighting a war against what is UNJUST. It requires us to open up our eyes to truly see what is happening right next to us. And then doing something about it.

Let us not take Freedom for granted.

Los Angeles Paralegal Pleads Guilty To Role In Visa Fraud

July 3, 2022

A Los Angeles paralegal pleaded guilty Monday, June 6, to  participating in a scheme to violate U.S. immigration laws by preparing and filing bogus documents that sought permanent residency and citizenship for members of a Philippines-based church.

Maria De Leon, 73, a resident of Koreatown and the owner of a legal document service, entered her plea to a single conspiracy charge, which carries a sentence of up to five years behind bars, according to the Department of Justice.

Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 12.

The defendant admitted her part in the scheme with administrators of the church, which is known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name, according to her plea agreement.

De Leon acknowledged that for eight years she helped commit marriage and visa fraud with the leaders of the church, which has a facility in Van Nuys.

De Leon is one of nine defendants charged in November in a 42-count indictment that alleges a labor-trafficking scheme that used fraudulently obtained visas to bring church members to the United States, where they were forced to solicit donations for a bogus charity.

Read the full story on Los Angeles Daily News.

Opinion | Human Trafficking Threatens Our Society

June 30, 2022

In the United States, slavery may be remembered as an abolished practice of the past, but it is still happening here today. It has been carried on through a new, illegal outlet: human trafficking.

The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Taking the definition a step further, the National Human Trafficking Hotline describes human trafficking as “modern-day slavery.”

Just looking through the news, I have come across countless stories — some just hours old — updating the world about ongoing human trafficking instances. For example, an incident occurred on May 26, only a state away in Oshkosh, Wisc. Slightly south of Green Bay, the area’s local ABC channel covered the ongoing inspection of a spa where victims and evidence of human trafficking have been discovered.

The FBI breaks down human trafficking into three forms. While all three involve the use of “force, fraud, or coercion,” they have different, inhumane purposes.

Historically creating the highest number of victims, sex trafficking forces victims to “engage in commercial sex acts.” Children and women are often the most vulnerable to this type of trafficking. These victims may suffer serious trauma, leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping disorders or eating disorders. Along with reproductive problems, victims may also contract infectious diseases from unsanitary living environments.

Labor trafficking, much like it sounds, forces victims to perform labor or service. This type of trafficking is the most similar to the historical, unethical practice of slavery here in the United States. It falls into two categories: bonded labor and forced labor. Bonded labor is when the victim is in debt to the trafficker, while forced labor is when the trafficker violates the victim’s free will.

Lastly is domestic servitude, in which the victims are often held in a household and “appear to be domestic workers,” like nannies and housekeepers but are really being controlled through force. People most likely to be subject to this type of trafficking are immigrants or people of color. They make up 65% of all domestic workers in the United States. Immigrants are often blackmailed by traffickers, who threaten deportation when the immigrants do not yet have full citizenship.

Read the full story by Maggie Knutte on The Daily Illini.

FBI Working To Protect Children From Human Trafficking

June 28, 2022

MIDLAND, Texas — Finding children who have either run away or been trafficked is becoming a bigger concern for law enforcement.

It was just a few days ago that 70 children were found and recovered in Midland, Ector, El Paso and Tom Green counties after a three week long operation.

Many of those children were runaways and some were also victims of abuse and trafficking.

Missing children, whether they are running away or being trafficked, are a big concern for law enforcement. This is why government agencies such as the FBI will work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement.

“We work very closely with our local law enforcement partners,” Aida Reyes, the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent of the Violent Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Squad, said. “So whenever there is an effort to locate children or to try and find to avert a disaster of somebody taking a child or engaging in sexual activity with a child, we do collaborate amongst all of us and put resources into making sure that we find these children.”

Read the full story by Jonathan Polasek on News West 9.

Three Men Sentenced To Federal Prison On Charges Related To Human Trafficking

June 26, 2022

Each admitted to role in forced farm labor in Operation Blooming Onion

BRUNSWICK, GA:  Three men have been sentenced to federal prison in separate but related cases in which they admitted providing forced labor for south Georgia farms.

Javier Sanchez Mendoza Jr., 24, of Jesup, Ga., was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; Aurelio Medina, 42, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 64 months in prison after pleading guilty to Forced Labor; and Yordon Velazquez Victoria, 45, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Mendoza and Medina are citizens of Mexico illegally present in the United States and are subject to deportation after completion of their prison terms.

There is no parole in the federal system.

“These men engaged in facilitating modern-day slavery,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Our law enforcement partners have exposed an underworld of human trafficking, and we will continue to identify and bring to justice those who would exploit others whose labors provide the fuel for their greed.”

The cases were charged as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, Operation Blooming Onion, which tracked a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring farm workers from Central America into the United States under the H-2A visa program under fraudulent pretenses and to profit from their labor by underpaying the workers and keeping them in substandard conditions. The case has been designated as a Priority Transnational Organized Crime Case under the OCDETF program.

As described in court documents and testimony, Mendoza admitted that from about August 2018 to November 2019, in Glynn, Wayne, and Pierce counties, he was a leader in a venture to obtain and provide labor and services for farms and other businesses. He did so by recruiting and unlawfully charging more than 500 Central American citizens to obtain H-2A visas – specifically granted for temporary agricultural labor – and then withholding the workers’ identification papers and threatening them and their families in their home countries to force them to work for little or no pay and in deplorable conditions.

A key victim testified during sentencing that Mendoza selected her from another work crew after her arrival in Georgia from Mexico and brought her to live with him, maintaining control through threats and intimidation and raping her repeatedly for more than a year – including deceiving her into believing she had married him. When she escaped, he kidnapped her at knifepoint from a home where she was babysitting children who were playing in their front yard. Law enforcement agencies tracked her to Mendoza’s Jesup mobile home, where after her rescue the officers found a shrine to Santa Muerte – “Saint Death” – decorated with her hair and blood in what was believed to be a prelude to her murder. Mendoza faces pending state charges for aggravated assault related to that incident.

Medina admitted that from about April to October 2020, in Glynn and Effingham counties, he charged foreign workers to obtain H-2A visas and then withheld their identification documents. Victoria, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted he conspired with Medina and allowed Medina to use his name to apply for the use of H-2A workers, and then transported those workers from housing to work for which Victoria was paid $600 per week.

The investigation into forced labor in agricultural communities, in south Georgia and beyond, continues through U.S.A. v. Patricio et al, in which 23 defendants are charged in the labor trafficking, visa fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The defendants are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Two of those defendants are fugitives.

“These defendants are being held accountable for the horrors of human and labor trafficking that they inflicted upon their victims, in the name of profit,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Thanks to the great work done by our agents, along with our state, local and federal partners, this case was successfully investigated and prosecuted preventing more innocent people from being victimized.”

“Customs and Border Protection takes great pride in fostering collaboration with our partner government agencies to diligently combat human trafficking and forced labor as part of our overall duties and responsibilities in protecting and preserving our national security,” said Henry DeBlock III, Area Port Director for CBP Savannah.

“This sentencing sends a strong message: DSS pursues those who fraudulently use worker visas, like the H-2A, for personal gain, making sure that those who commit human trafficking face consequences for their criminal actions,” said Jessica Moore, chief of the criminal investigations division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “We are firmly committed to working to prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this. DSS’ global presence and strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement partners was essential in the pursuit of justice for these victims.”

“Mendoza, Medina and Victoria misused the H-2A program in order to enrich themselves at the expense of foreign workers and American employers,” said Mathew Broadhurst, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to vigorously pursue those who commit fraud involving foreign labor programs.”

“The United States abolished slavery and involuntary servitude over 156 years ago, yet these men engaged in the heinous crime of forced labor and chose to exploit their fellow human beings for profit,” said Philip Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners to purse justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking and prosecuting perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”

“This investigation is an excellent example of a partnership between federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies working together to bring down individuals involved in a human trafficking conspiracy,” said Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division. “The hard work and countless hours put forth by all has prevented so many victims from being further victimized by the defendants who have caused considerable emotional harm.”

The cases are being investigated as part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.

Agencies investigating the cases include Homeland Security Investigations; Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security; the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and Wage and Hour Division; U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the FBI. The cases are being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Human Trafficking Coordinator Tania D. Groover, and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Deputy Chief E. Greg Gilluly Jr.

Press release originally posted by U.S Department of Justice.

A Simple Act That Supports Survivors of Human Trafficking in Worthwhile Wear Programs

June 25, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, May 27, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Over 25 million people are trafficked worldwide, leaving many survivors with inadequate resources for dealing with trauma, abuse, and addiction. But despite these odds, there’s hope and a way for everyone to be a part of the solution.

Now, through July 30, everyone, everywhere is invited to walk, bike, run, swim or even kayak to support survivors of human trafficking through Worthwhile Wear’s national “Act Challenge.” For every mile logged at WorthwhileWear.org or shared on social media using @WorthwhileWear, Act Challenge sponsors will make a financial donation per mile that helps provide safe housing and restorative programming to survivors of human trafficking in America. The Act Challenge is a free event and open to all ages and abilities.

Schools, businesses, gyms, churches and even other organizations are capitalizing on the opportunity this event offers. Educate students, clients and colleagues on the issue of human trafficking, and then host a walk/jog/ride to make a positive impact in the life of someone affected by trafficking.

The goal of this year’s Act Challenge is to complete 30,000 miles by July 30, “World Day Against Trafficking.” Join everyone in raising awareness about the issue of trafficking and help expand housing capacity and outreach programs for survivors by logging miles today.

To join this effort, follow these steps:

  1. Track: Log miles while walking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, etc.
  2. Record: Submit completed miles on the submission form at www.worthwhilewear.org or post on social media and tag @WorthwhileWear
  3. Repeat: Miles may be submitted every day through July 30.

Read the full story on Globe News Wire.