Categories for Law Enforcement

Let’s Not Ignore That Human Trafficking Is Happening In Our Neighborhoods

January 28, 2023

by Christine Commerce, Communications Director

As we celebrate Human Trafficking Awareness Month once again and #WearBlueDay that took place on Jan. 11, I reflect on the principle of Think Globally, Act Locally.

For the past four years, I have worked as coordinator for the Diocese of Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force and now I am entering new territory as I transition from addressing human trafficking in Central Florida to a national level as the new Director of Communications for the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking. My role is very different, but the goals are still very similar – raise awareness of this issue, prevent trafficking from happening in the first place and have people take a look at how we play a role in human trafficking, including labor exploitation and our purchasing choices.

Aside from a national level focus, I still volunteer for this cause locally from participating in A21’s Walk for Freedom in October to the Central Florida Human Trafficking Task Force’s Red Sand Event in Orlando, where volunteers pour red sand into the cracks of the sidewalk to raise awareness by posting pictures on social media. The sand represents millions of victims who fall through the cracks due to lack of identification, services, law enforcement etc. There are an estimated 50 million people in human trafficking around the world if you include forced marriage.

Millions of people fall through the cracks with less than 1% of people in the United States who get the services they need to get out of the life. During a Christmas party, I recently spoke with my husband’s aunt, a retired emergency room nurse, who recognized the red flags of human trafficking: A 15-year-old girl with an older woman who spoke for her and had medical conditions that were consistent with someone who was experiencing sex trafficking. Yet when my husband’s aunt went to the doctor on duty with her concerns, his response was, “I don’t have time for that.”

My immediate response upon hearing this story was anger, not toward the trafficker but at this doctor, who is supposed to be committed to the care of others and saving lives. Yet, he was too busy to save the life of a 15-year-old girl. The average life span of a trafficking victim is seven years in the life because if they are not rescued or identified then they may die of a drug overdose, from medical complications or are killed. My anger turned into sadness for this girl who slipped through the cracks of a system that was supposed to help her but failed.

Another example was recently relayed to me when I heard of human trafficking survivor who needed food services and was never connected to the local food pantry. This breaks my heart as the services for human trafficking survivors are what helps them stay out of “the life.” Without resources, they are left without options, hope and the necessities needed to live their lives free from their traffickers who can very easily exploit their vulnerabilities and find themselves right back in “the life.” Soon after, she went missing and was just one more victim who fell through the cracks.

Each of us has a responsibility when it comes to human trafficking, whether that’s to learn the signs to help identify victims, to change the way we purchase products or to use our voice to speak up and create awareness of this issue. There are so many ways we can help and make a difference whether it’s writing to your favorite companies or contacting your legislators for policies to protect survivors and prosecute the buyers and traffickers.

William Wilberforce, a famous abolitionist who was instrumental in abolishing the slave trade in England once said, “We can choose to look the other way, but never again can you say you did not know.”

Together, by doing our own part whether it’s volunteering, educating or using our purchasing power, we can help end modern-day slavery and the exploitation of our brothers and sisters.

Kids Can Still Be Charged With Prostitution In Almost Half The Country, New Report Highlights Need For Steady Legislative Improvements

November 3, 2022

Washington, D.C., Nov. 01, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — November 1, 2022 – A new report released today by Shared Hope International shows almost half the country still allows children to be criminalized for their own victimization and a vast majority of states fail to provide funded, holistic services to child sex trafficking survivors. As the only U.S. NGO working in every state to advance legislative protections for child sex trafficking survivors, Shared Hope analyzes child and youth sex trafficking laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, using 40 policy goals to evaluate legal responses to child sex trafficking victims.

The report is used to press for a national standard of victim-centered justice, which can only be achieved if all states are actively working to develop and implement robust protections and just responses to children and youth who have experienced trafficking. Through the Report Cards, Shared Hope is pushing states to ensure all children have access to protective care and services that help survivors heal and rebuild their lives.

“We are thrilled to see many states introduce legislation this session addressing some of the largest gaps in appropriately responding to survivors of child sex trafficking: the development of statewide service responses, dedicated state funding, and provision of non-criminalization protections,” said former Congresswoman and Shared Hope Founder, Linda Smith. “However, a number of those states struggled to move related bills over the finish line, resulting in a preservation of status quo responses; today, too many children remain vulnerable to punishment for their own trafficking victimization and are unable to access critical services and care.”

In Shared Hope’s Report Cards on Child & Youth Sex Trafficking, states are graded across six policy issue areas, providing a consistent measure of state progress. States receive a letter grade based on their score, receiving an A, B, C, D, or F. In the 2022 report, zero states received an A. Tennessee has become the first, and only state, to receive a B, with an overall grade of 81.5. Three states have received a C, Florida, Texas, and California. Ten states received a D, and 37 states have received a failing grade of an F.

Read the full story by Shared Hope International on yahoo!



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.

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.

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.