Tuesday 06th December 2016,

Crime

17 Indicted for Sex Trafficking & Exploiting Hundreds of Thai ‘slaves’

posted by Randall
Human Trafficking

The human trafficking ring spread across the country.
DOJ Graphic

By Ed Diokno

Hundreds of Thai women were offered a chance at the American dream, instead they lived a nightmare as “sex slaves” in a human trafficking ring exposed and busted by a multi-agency investigation that netted 17 arrests, according to an indictment unsealed this week.

The indictment released in St. Paul, Minnesota, charges 17 members of an international sex trafficking organization with transporting hundreds of women from Thailand and profiting from advertising them for commercial sex throughout the United States. It outlined a sordid but sophisticated operation that exploited the victims.

The charged defendants include 12 Thai nationals and five U.S. ciitizens. Eight of the 17 charged defendants were arrested this week at various locations in Minnesota, California, Illinois, Georgia and Hawaii. One charged defendant was previously arrested in Belgium and four defendants remains at large, said U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

“Human trafficking is a degrading crime that undermines our nation’s most basic promises of liberty and security,” said Lynch.

“The 17 people charged in this indictment ran a highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger of the District of Minnesota. “They promised women in Thailand a chance at the American dream, but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare. In short, the victims lived like modern day sex slaves.human-trafficking-graphic

The “indictment is our ninth sex trafficking case since 2014, but it is the first that targets an entire organization. We will continue to work closely with our federal and local law enforcement partners to target and dismantle these types of far-reaching organizations.”“This week’s arrests reflect Homeland Security Investigation’s global reach and ongoing efforts to dismantle criminal organizations that engage in human trafficking activities,” said Special Agent in Charge Alex Khu of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. “HSI also remains firmly committed to rescuing victims and getting them help they desperately need to begin recovering from the depredations forced on them by these criminals.”

According to the indictment, which was returned under seal on Sept. 28, 2016, since at least 2009, the criminal organization has recruited and transported hundreds of women, which the organization refers to as “flowers,” from Thailand to various locations across the United States, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas and Austin, for purposes of exploiting them for prostitution. Once in the United States, victims were allegedly placed in houses of prostitution where they were forced to work long hours – often all day, every day. As alleged in the indictment, the women were not allowed to leave the prostitution houses unless accompanied by a member of the criminal organization.

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According to allegations in the indictment, which identifies several of the women as victims of human trafficking, the organization often recruited women from impoverished backgrounds who spoke little English. Recruiters exploited these vulnerabilities during the recruitment process, promising the victims access to a better life in the United States in exchange for a debt of between $40,000 and $60,000, which the women were required to pay off through prostitution earnings.

As alleged in the indictment, before transporting the women to the U.S., the organization would typically arrange to have the women photographed for purposes of advertising them for sex on websites like backpage.com and eros.com. The organization also encouraged the women to have breast implants in Thailand to make them “more appealing” to potential sex buyers and added the cost to the victims’ debt.The organization engaged in widespread visa fraud to facilitate the international transportation of the women into their commercial sex enterprise, the indictment alleges. Members of the criminal organization assisted in obtaining fraudulent visas and travel documents for the women, and members of the conspiracy used personal information on the women and their families, which they gathered in the course of obtaining the fraudulent documents, to threaten victims who became non-compliant or tried to flee.

The accused included:
The bossAccording to the indictment, Sumalee Intarathong (aka Joy), 55, served as a boss/trafficker before her arrest in Belgium on Aug. 5. Each trafficked victim was “owned” by Intarathong or another boss until the victim could repay the bondage debt. The trafficker arranged for victims to travel from Thailand to the United States and placed the victims in a house of prostitution somewhere in the United States.

House bosses

Chabaprai Boonluea, 42, Winder, Georgia
Watcharin Luamseejun, 46, remains at large
Pantilla Rodpholka, 31, Mount Prospect, Illinois

The indictment said “House bosses” owned one or more of the houses where the women were trafficked. House bosses were advertising, scheduling and making money transfers. They made sure a significant portion of the money earned by the victims was routed back to the boss to pay down the bondage debt. The victim was not allowed to keep any money, except for the occasional tip.

Money laundering ‘facilitators’

Noppawan Lerslurchachai, 35, Lomita, California
Khanong Intharathong, 44, Dunwoody, Georgia
Andrew Flanigan, 51, Winder, Georgia
Patcharaporn Saengkham, 41 Los Angeles
Supapon Sonprasit, 31, St. Paul, Minnesota

According to the indictment, other members of the criminal organization served as “facilitators,” primarily responsible for laundering money and directing the movement of victims within the United States.

Runners

Thi Vu, 48, Atlanta
Todd Vassey, 54, Lahanina, Hawaii
John Zbracki, 59, Lakeville, Minnesota

Others, according to the indictment, served as “runners” – typically men who were paid, in part, by sex with the victims. Runners accompanied the victims anytime they were permitted to leave a house, and sometimes rented hotel rooms or apartments.

According to the newly released Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, the number of human trafficking victims rescued and traffickers prosecuted nearly doubled in 2016.

The report, conducted by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State, found that nearly 78,000 victims were identified in 2016, a notable increase from 2015 when just under 45,000 victims were identified. And as a whole human trafficking is a lucrative industry that around the globe rakes in $150 billion.

“This case demonstrates the Justice Department’s determination to hold traffickers accountable and to help the survivors of this appalling practice reclaim their freedom and dignity,” said Lynch.

 

Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.
 

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