Categories for Law Enforcement

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.

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.

118 Arrested In Undercover Sex Trafficking Operation In Valley

April 21, 2022

PHOENIX — Phoenix police announced Friday the arrest of 118 people in an undercover investigation aimed at preventing human trafficking-related crimes in the Valley.

Police said the Phoenix HEAT unit worked with human trafficking units from Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa, Tempe, HSI, and the FBI to address the problem in the greater Phoenix area.

Officials said the joint operation was conducted in Scottsdale and Phoenix and resulted in 118 arrests related to prostitution, luring, pandering, escort service violations, and warrants.

The investigations took place in two phases, the first over a three-day period in January. Phase two took place over a three-day period in February, police said.

Officials said three of the subjects arrested had outstanding felony warrants; one of which was for homicide out of Texas.

Four Disney Employees Arrested In Florida Human Trafficking, Child Predator Sting

April 14, 2022

Four Disney employees were arrested in a massive undercover operation targeting human traffickers, child predators and prostitution.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office identified the workers at a news conference Wednesday following the conclusion of Operation March Sadness 2, a six-day sting that led to the arrests of 108 people.

Xavier Jackson, 27, of Kissimmee, allegedly communicated online and via text with an undercover detective posing as a 14-year-old girl, authorities said.

Jackson worked as a lifeguard at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Sheriff Grady Judd said. He allegedly sent photos showing him “doing things that’s totally inappropriate” and bragged about working at the resort, the sheriff said.

Jackson was arrested and charged with three counts of harmful material and one count of unlawful communication.

The three other Disney employees were identified as Ralph Leese, 45; Shubham Malave, 27; and Wilakson Fidele, 24. They were all charged with soliciting a prostitute, Judd said.

Fidele, from Orlando, worked at Disney for about four years at the Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Tomorrowland, the sheriff said. Leese, from Winter Garden, worked in IT for Disney, and Malave was a software developer for the company. Malave is in the United States on a work visa, according to Judd.

Read the full story by Minyvonne Burke on NBC News.

Michigan State Police Joins Forces To Fight Human Trafficking

February 27, 2022

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State Police is hoping to educate motorists about the signs of human trafficking and enforce laws that crack down on traffickers.

The goal is to educate people working as a commercial motor vehicle drivers, public transportation companies, rest area attendants and truck stop employees.

MSP is teaming up with motor carrier officers from neighboring states and Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) January 24-28 to raise awareness of human trafficking.

According to the Polaris Project, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking hotline, Michigan ranked in the top 10 states in human trafficking in 2019 with 364 cases. The Polaris Project also reported the cities with the most human trafficking in Michigan include, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Mackinac Island.

Read the full story by Emily Reed on News Channel 3

Human Trafficking Lawsuit Against Hindu Temple In N.J. Expands To 5 States

January 13, 2022

A lawsuit in which workers accuse a Hindu organization of human trafficking by luring them from India to build a temple in New Jersey for as little as $1.20 a day has widened to four other states.

In the initial lawsuit filed in May, workers at a Hindu temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey, claimed leaders of the Hindu organization known as Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS, coerced them into signing employment agreements and forced them to work more than 12 hours per day with few days off, under the watch of security guards. They traveled to New Jersey under R-1 visas, which are meant for “those who minister, or work in religious vocations or occupations,” according to the lawsuit.

The amended lawsuit filed last month added several more workers to the lawsuit. The workers, who the lawsuit says were from marginalized communities in India, claim they were exploited at temples in Chino Hills, California, outside Los Angeles; Bartlett, Illinois, outside Chicago; Stafford, Texas, outside Houston; and Lilburn, Georgia, outside Atlanta.

“U.S. Government officials have authorized the use of R-1 visas for stone artisans for 20 years, and federal, state, and local government agencies have regularly visited and inspected all of the construction projects on which those artisans volunteered,” Paul Fishman, an attorney representing BAPS, said in an email Wednesday.

Jury Finds New Haven Man Guilty of Sex Trafficking During Last Year’s Super Bowl

December 21, 2021

A federal jury said a man from New Haven was found guilty of commercial sex trafficking during last year’s Super Bowl in Miami.

The U.S Attorney’s Office in Florida said 48-year-old Edward Walker brought two adult woman and a 17-year-old girl to Miami from Connecticut to engage in commercial sex acts during the Super Bowl.

Court officials said Walker “emotionally, psychologically and financially coerced the victims into soliciting customers and having sex with them in exchange for money, all of which Walker kept.”

Additional evidence also showed that Walker planned to take the women to Chicago, New Orleans and Las Vegas to further sexually exploit them, officials said.

 

Read the full story on NBC Connecticut.

Omaha Woman Sentenced for Role in Sex Trafficking of Minors

October 1, 2021

Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp announced that Lauryn Besta, 22, of Omaha, Nebraska, was sentenced today in federal court in Omaha for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor. Chief United States District Judge Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. sentenced Besta to 142 months’ imprisonment. There is no parole in the federal system. After her release from prison, Besta will begin a five-year term of supervised release.

An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office determined that from January 2016 and continuing through January 2019, in the District of Nebraska and elsewhere, Besta (also known as “Lola”) and a co-defendant, Darien Brewer, conspired and agreed to recruit, transport, and entice four minor females, under the age of 18 years old, to engage in commercial sex.  The victims were introduced into the lifestyle of prostitution through the use of drugs and alcohol provided by Besta and Brewer.  Besta and Brewer often referred to the minors as “the Bunny Gang.”

Investigators determined that Besta and Brewer would instruct the minors how to advertise, solicit, and charge for commercial sex acts in the District of Nebraska and elsewhere.  They obtained commercial sex customers for the minors by purchasing and posting advertisements on internet sites such as www.backpage.com. Sex customers responded to the advertisements via telephone and text message and commercial sex acts were coordinated to occur at various hotels, motels, and other locations.  Besta and Brewer used vehicles and public highways to drive the minors to various hotels, motels, and other locations for commercial sex acts, including Omaha, Nebraska; Lincoln, Nebraska; Iowa; and Houston, Texas.  The minors paid a portion or all of the payments received for commercial sex acts to Besta and Brewer.

On August 27, 2021, Chief Judge Rossiter sentenced Brewer to 180 months’ imprisonment and a five-year term of supervised release.

This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.

Read this press release on the Department of Justice website.

Colonie Man Charged with Human Trafficking Offenses

September 30, 2021

ALBANY, NEW YORK – A grand jury yesterday returned a superseding indictment charging Christopher Thomas, age 38, of Colonie, New York, with crimes related to the sex trafficking of children and adults.

The announcement was made by Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon, Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and New York State Police Superintendent Kevin Bruen.

The indictment charges Thomas with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking of a child, transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to transport an individual to engage in prostitution, and coercion and enticement.

Thomas is alleged to have recruited girls and women to engage in commercial sex at his direction and then provide him with the proceeds.  Thomas is alleged to have used a website to advertise the girls and women for commercial sex in the Capital Region, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

The charges in the superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Thomas has been in custody since his arrest on May 12, 2020.

If convicted of all offenses, Thomas faces at least 10 years and up to life in prison.  A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.

This case is being investigated by the FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, and the New York State Police Troop G Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, with assistance from the Colonie Police Department, Vermont State Police, Burlington, Vermont Police Department, Albany Police Department, Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Bethlehem Police Department, Capital Region Crime Analysis Center, and the New York State Intelligence Center. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shira Hoffman and Katherine Kopita.

Read this press release on the Department of Justice webpage.

Monroe County Sheriff Launches V.I.P.E.R. Task Force To Combat Human Trafficking

September 16, 2021

MONROE, Michigan — The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office launched a new crime task force to combat human trafficking.

The announcement of the new task force was made during a news conference Thursday morning at the Monroe County Emergency Management building.

The new team is called V.I.P.E.R., which stands for Violent Internet Predator Exploitation Response. It’s made up of members from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Monroe Police Department and Michigan State Police.

They started in July and two of their operations have led to the arrest of five alleged predators – some from Toledo. All five were charged with one count of child sexually abusive activity – a 20 year felony – one count of accosting a child for immoral purposes and one count of using a computer and internet to commit a crime.

“The national statistics are very clear. For every individual we take off the street, we save 24 victims,” said Sheriff Troy Goodnough.

The task force was trained by the Genessee County G.H.O.S.T. team in Mid-Michigan.