Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Human trafficking victims deported before ever getting chance to testify

The Kansas City Star

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala | In a dingy reception center across from the new terminal at La Aurora International Airport, Guatemalan immigration agents don surgical masks and brace for another day of controlled chaos.

A U.S. government passenger jet — one of up to seven a week — taxis to a stop. More than 100 disheveled deportees shuffle down the stairs and head for the center. Agents check for criminal records and swine flu and return shoelaces confiscated stateside, usually as a suicide precaution.

One thing the agents won’t do, however, is check to see if the deportees were victims of human trafficking while on U.S. soil.

“We don’t look at that,” said a Guatemalan immigration agent. “That’s done by the U.S. government before they send them here.”

In fact, that’s not the case.

Instead, The Kansas City Star found, the U.S. government compounds their suffering by deporting them back to the same impoverished conditions they fled in the first place. Up to one-fourth of the victims who might have testified against their traffickers were deported.

What’s more, deportees on one of two Kansas City-based government airlines have been abused or sedated in violation of federal regulations, The Star found.

“These are very disturbing allegations and this is not permitted under our system,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who heads the House subcommittee that oversees detention and deportation procedures. That is “completely at odds with our policy,” she noted, adding that The Star’s findings should be investigated.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials who charter the flights said they take great care to identify trafficking victims, but would not comment specifically on whether they screen all deportees for human trafficking status, or whether they are aware of deporting trafficking victims.

They said they have guidelines to prevent abuse of deportees, but they acknowledged that earlier this year at least one deportee was sedated on a Marshals Service flight in direct violation of those regulations.

Yet ICE said in a statement that it “takes allegations of trafficking very seriously and investigates any claims that a person makes to indicate they have been a victim of trafficking or trafficking-related crimes.”

The State Department and Congress recognize the need for more aggressive screening to keep from deporting human trafficking victims, said Luis CdeBaca, the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

“We are going to be working … to make sure those vulnerable populations are not just shown the door,” he said.

Top officials, however, have known about the problem for years.

Trafficking expert Julianne Duncan, formerly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told federal officials in 2005 that trafficking victims — who are often forced into prostitution or hard labor — are “frequently deported rather than provided services. This is shockingly the case even for children.”

That’s allegedly what happened to Mardoqueo Valle-Callejas and many of the 388 workers swept up in a workplace raid last year at a Postville, Iowa, meat processing plant.

The Guatemalan father of five came to America illegally to earn money for his family. But he told The Star that he was forced to provide hours of free labor to his bosses, work when injured and that he had questionable fees deducted from his remaining earnings.

Friday, December 11, 2009

US ENVOY: Poor economy fueling slavery

HONG KONG — The global economic crisis may be driving more people into forced labor and other forms of modern-day slavery, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Harder economic conditions have had a "driving effect" as labor recruiters exploit the poor with false promises of better jobs, said Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. ambassador for human trafficking issues.

Migrants are taking more risks and are willing to pay recruiters more and travel farther distances because of "increased desperation after the crash," he said.

Victims are often promised higher-paying jobs, only to find themselves deep in debt and virtual slaves working for little money in jobs such as domestic helpers or prostitutes.

"Though (human traffickers) deal in misery, what they're pitching is hope: hope for a better life, hope for a better opportunity," CdeBaca told reporters in Hong Kong.

He said many countries are enhancing their investigative abilities to fight human trafficking. In Asia, he suggested there was a growing focus on the problem and willingness to work with other regions, pointing to a recent report by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

In mainland China, forced labor — especially involving children — remains a major problem, according to a recent report by the U.S. State Department. Woman have also been forced into sexual slavery and sold as brides, the report says.

China's government does not fully meet international standards for fighting human trafficking, though it is making "significant efforts" to comply, the reports says. Chinese laws, for example, define trafficking in a limited way that doesn't automatically prohibit some forced labor or deem certain minors coerced into sex work to be victims.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Girl, 11, endures "horrific" sex trafficking ordeal

A woman whose 11-year-old daughter was targeted by a human trafficking ring in South Yorkshire has spoken of her family's "absolutely horrific" ordeal.

The mother, known only as Angela, described how her daughter was used for sex, being moved between flats and hotels in Sheffield.

She said a group of young men - who her daughter met through fellow pupils - used threats and violence to control the girl's behaviour for three years.

When Angela tried to intervene in the situation to help the girl her family was threatened.
She told the BBC men would tell her daughter that they were going to kill her family or burn down the house.

According to one charity, the girl is one of at least 400 families in the UK, affected by sexual exploitation in the last five years.

"They frightened her to such an extent that she really daren't do anything other that what they said," Angela said.

She described how her daughter initially believed the men were aged around 16 years old, and considered them her boyfriends, but soon realised they were older.

"What she soon realised was that none of them were genuine and they were handing her around from one to the other," Angela said.

"She said she was dealing with it, always kept saying she was dealing with it, she knew what she was doing."

However the girl managed to escape her mother's attempts to keep her safe.

"We'd lock all the doors and windows and she would actually manage to get through an upstairs window, she would jump out," Angela said.

At this time she started following her daughter when she left the house.

'Five-hour battles'
"We found out that these men were taking them and using them for sex. They were taking them to flats around the city. All these girls were under 13 years of age," she said.

"We didn't know what these men looked like which was the most scary thing because it was like being terrorised as a family by faceless individuals."

She said that her daughter started going missing for days at a time, and on one occasion for an entire week.

"We would have five-hour battles in the hall trying to stop her leaving the house, but at some point they have to go to school," she said.

Eventually, when Angela's daughter was 14 years old police involvement ended the girl's ordeal. No prosecutions were ever brought.

"It was absolutely horrific," Angela said. "Even thinking about it now makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."

Teenage 'rebellion'
Catherine Tatman of the Leeds-based charity Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (CROP) said that grooming could affect people from all socio-economic backgrounds.

The charity has helped more than 400 families which have been affected by sexual exploitation in the last five years.

She added that signs of grooming could start off looking like normal signs of teenage rebellion.
"It may just be that they begin to come back in late, that they begin to experiment with alcohol or drugs," she said.

She added that other signs included dropping out of school and getting new possessions including mobile phones.

"It's a combination of lots of different factors which would really make you thinking that something above the ordinary is going on," she said.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trafficker from Florida finally arrested after forcing girl into sex slavery

By Dennis Culver

A Bonita Springs man was arrested early this morning for human trafficking after he allegedly forced a juvenile to perform sex acts for money.

Juan Gomez Domingo, 23, allegedly brought the victim from Homestead to Bonita Springs with plans to marry her.

According to a Lee County Sheriff’s Office report:

Investigators were contacted by Health Park Hospital in response to a pregnant juvenile in labor believed to be a victim of human trafficking.

When contacted by investigators, the victim became very emotional and said she had entered the United States three years ago illegally by crossing the Mexican border.

She then traveled to Homestead where she expected to begin work at a nursery but was told she had to perform sexual acts to pay the fee she owed the smugglers.

She told investigators she was forced to have sex with three managers of the nursery for five months.

Domingo, who was from the same hometown as the victim, knew about the girl’s situation, contacted the victim’s mother and told her he would get the girl out of the situation and marry her, if she would allow it.

Domingo then allegedly took the victim to Bonita Springs.

Once in Bonita Springs, the victim was taken to various places in the area to have sex for money.

After she became pregnant and had a child, Gomez allegedly became upset the child was not his and allegedly began to physically and emotionally abuse her.

He threatened to kick her and her child out of the residence if she didn’t work as a prostitute to help pay the rent.

The victim continued to work as a prostitute in various brothels in Bonita Springs.

There were several other unidentified women involved in bringing the girl to various locations to perform sex acts for money.

Domingo is facing one felony count of forced labor or services by human trafficking and remains in custody at the Lee County Jail.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

US officials begin push against human trafficking


BOSTON — Fourteen cities are being targeted in a new campaign aimed at alerting people about human trafficking, federal immigration officials have announced.

The "Hidden in Plain Sight" initiative, sponsored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, features billboards highlighting "the horrors and the prevalence of human trafficking," which the agency says is equivalent to "modern-day slavery."

The words "Hidden in Plain Sight" are displayed on the advertisements with a toll-free number people can call to report situations where they believe people are being sexually exploited or forced to work against their will.

Cities in the new campaign are Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans; New York; St. Paul, Minn.; San Antonio; San Francisco and Tampa, Fla.

Bruce Foucart, an ICE special agent in charge of New England, said officials hope the billboards persuade residents to report suspected cases to ICE or local law enforcement.

"It's difficult to identify victims and it's difficult for them to tell their stories," said Foucart.

About 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked each year around the world and about 17,500 of them end up in the United States, according to ICE. Immigration officials say the victims are lured from their homes with false promises of well-paying jobs but are trafficked into the commercial sex trade, domestic servitude or forced labor.

Foucart said victims who cooperate with law enforcement are offered temporary status and can later apply to stay in the U.S. permanently.

Jozefina Lantz, director of New Americans services at Lutheran Social Services in Worcester, Mass., welcomed the new campaign and said the public is generally unaware that human trafficking is occurring near their homes.

"Often the victims get mistaken for undocumented immigrants," said Lantz. "It's not the same because these people were abducted from their homes and forced into trafficking."

Lantz said her group has recently helped trafficking victims from Africa and South America.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Victims of human trafficking speak out at the United Nations

By EDITH M. LEDERER (AP) – Oct 22, 2009

UNITED NATIONS — A father of two from Nepal who thought he was going to America wound up in Iraq, forced to work at a U.S. airbase. A 14-year-old Ugandan girl kidnapped by rebels spent nearly eight years in captivity as a sex slave and human shield. And a young Venezuelan woman lured to New York by the man she loved wound up in a brothel his family was running.
The three victims of human trafficking spoke Thursday at an event organized by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who said it was "pressing and urgent" not only to listen to their stories of survival but to get their recommendations on how the international community can help end the growing global scourge.

"In every part of the world, countless individuals are callously exploited for profit," Pillay said. "While trafficking may be a problem related to migration and to transnational crime, it is also — and fundamentally — an attack on the dignity and integrity of the individual. Trafficking involves practices prohibited in every country including slavery, debt, bondage, forced labor and sexual exploitation."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who opened the event, said the global economic crisis "is making the problem worse."

He urged governments to heed his "call to action" and step up efforts to prevent exploitation, protect victims and pursue traffickers whose conviction rates in most countries "are microscopic compared to the scope of the problem."

The U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimated last year that annual profits from trafficked, forced labor is around $31.6 billion. Some experts say it is now the second-largest illicit business in the world after drugs.

Buddhi Gurung, who calls himself a poor Nepali man, described how he was unable to get a job to support his wife and two sons during fighting by Maoist rebels and the army in 2004. When an agent promised him a job in America for $500 a month, he said he borrowed about $2,800 to pay him — but instead of going to the United States, he was taken to Jordan via New Delhi.
After a month in Jordan, he said he was put in a van with 11 others and driven to Baghdad. Twelve Nepali friends in the van that left just before his were abducted, paraded on television and eventually beheaded. Gurung said he wound up at the U.S. Al Asad Air Base where he was forced to work and paid less than the promised $500 a month.

"We would hear bomb blasts nearby and we knew our life was at risk," Gurung said. "I always wanted to go back to Nepal but neither my passport was with me, nor did I have any money or knew any other way to go back. ... Finally, after 15 months, I was permitted to go back to Nepal. ... This is how my life was saved."

Gurung and the families of the 12 Nepali men have filed a U.S. federal lawsuit accusing Houston-based defense contractor KBR Inc. and a Jordanian subcontractor, Daoud & Partners, of human trafficking.

Gurung urged the "big people" at Thursday's event "to develop a mechanism to save people like me from such traps of human trafficking."

Charlotte Awino described how she and 138 other girls were abducted from a boarding school in 1996 by rebels from the Lords Resistance Army, marched for three months into southern Sudan, and used as human shields during fighting against Uganda soldiers.

"As usual, we girls suffered more," she said. "We were distributed to rebel commanders, as objects without rights, and we were sexually abused. ... I was given to a man who had 20 other abducted girls, and he was a brutal man. I had two children with him."

Awino, who escaped in 2004 when the rebels went back to northern Uganda, urged the U.N. to "try to get back the children who have been trafficked through war, some as young as 6."
She also called for victims to be given counseling, health care and education, for countries to better protect their citizens during war, and for improved methods to track and trace missing people. She also urged understanding for the plight of victims.

"One day I was at home. The next day I was among the rebels," Awino said. "Is everyone going to call us rebels or terrorists?"

Kikka Cerpa described falling in love with a man named Daniel while working at a hotel in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, when she was 17 years old. A few years later, she said, Daniel moved to New York and eventually she went to join him, only to discover that his family ran a sex trafficking ring.

Cerpa said her passport and money were taken, she was put in a basement and told she owed the family a lot of money, and the only way to pay it off was to work in a brothel.
"The first night was the worst," she said, her voice quavering. "I have to service 90 men."
Cerpa said she was trafficked from brothel to brothel over the next three years. Sometimes police would raid the brothels, but "instead of rescuing us, they demand that we perform sexual services on them." After her best friend in the brothel was murdered by a customer, she said, she knew she had to leave — so she married a customer, but he beat her and threatened to have her deported.

Finally, she escaped and was helped by an organization to get a divorce and legalize her status in the U.S.

"I'm telling my story to help all the trafficking victims around the world," she said. "We need to pass and enforce laws that will protect us from traffickers like Daniel."
Cerpa said customers should also be held accountable and "treated like a criminal, like they are," and police officers and prosecutors should be trained to identify and protect victims.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Indonesia hub for human trafficking gang bosses


They have suitably piratical names like Ali Cobra and Suparman Tong, but there is nothing swashbuckling about the lives these men lead.

All too often they bring death or years of slavery.

Cobra and Suparman are in prison in Indonesia. They were arrested in May when they organized the breakout from a detention centre of 18 Afghan asylum-seekers.

The refugees were put on a fishing boat bound for Australia, but the vessel capsized in stormy seas and nine of the refugees drowned.

Indonesia has become a hub of people-smuggling in recent years as regional wars, fear of ethnic cleansing or mere desire for economic opportunity drive thousands of people to seek supposed safety in countries like Canada and Australia.

Traffickers' fees can run to tens of thousands of dollars and all too often refugees who cannot pay, sign on for years of bonded labour akin to slavery at their destination to pay off the debt.

Indonesia is a favourite hub because it has no laws against human trafficking and only minor penalties for breaching the vague rules governing migration.

That's why Captain Bram -- real name Abraham Lauhenapessy -- was in a position to organize the boat, now tied up in the west Java port of Merak after capture by the Indonesian navy, for 250 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who wanted to go to Australia.

There are suspicions that Captain Bram also organized the voyage of the Ocean Lady, which was detained off the B.C. coast last week with 76 would-be migrants, apparently Sri Lankan Tamils, on board.

Captain Bram is fresh out of prison after serving 20 months of the two-year sentence he was handed in 2007 for breaking Indonesia's migration laws.

He was found on the boat at Merak pretending to be a crew member and was arrested by Indonesian police. Indeed, one of the reasons the boat got captured was that he ordered it to turn around when it failed to make a sea rendezvous with another boat, and he feared being taken to Australia, where he would face 20 years in prison.

Indonesia is a much better bet for Captain Bram. He has been arrested there many times, but is seldom charged because of lack of evidence or because money is persuasive.

His time may be running out as intense cooperation in recent years between Australian and Indonesian police and intelligence agencies has unmasked much about the kingpins of human trafficking and their networks.

The volume of people trying to get to Australia has intensified since the election of the Labour Party government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in late 2007. The belief has bounced around Asia that the Rudd government is soft on illegal immigrants and refugees.

Already this year, 34 boats bringing asylum seekers have been identified by Australian authorities and 1,700 people detained awaiting judgment on their cases.

What is not known is how many hundreds of people drown when the unseaworthy -- and cheap -- craft favoured by the smugglers sink en route.

Most of the would-be migrants come from the war-torn countries of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Thousands run out of money and get stranded in Indonesia. In the west Java hill resort of Puncak, for example, there are now so many Afghans awaiting passage to Australia that local restaurants serve Afghan food.

Two Pakistanis, Ali Reza and Ali Sadat, are the big bosses of the trafficking of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. These men usually travel with four bodyguards and are very dangerous. It was Reza who organized the January detention camp breakout for the Afghans for which Cobra and Suparman are doing time.

Reza hasn't been seen in Indonesia since February.

A fourth kingpin is Iranian Majid Mahmood, a regular star on the Indonesian police most-wanted list.

Most journeys to Australia begin with flights from Pakistan to Malaysia. Malaysia is a favourite transit point because, in a wonderfully useful piece of religious brotherly solidarity for the traffickers, it does not require visas for people coming from Muslim countries.

From there it is an easy hop to Indonesia or even directly by boat to Australia through the tortuous waterways of the Indonesian archipelago's 16,500 islands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Search for Amber Dubois continues

In August, police thought they had found Amber Dubois, the 14-year-old Escondido girl missing since February.

For three weeks, they had been tracking a girl who had been seen near Garberville in Humboldt County.

“Somebody saw a flier and said, ‘Wow, I'm sure that's her,’ ” said Escondido police Lt. Bob Benton.

Escondido police contacted deputies in the county 700 miles away, and more fliers were distributed.

More tips came in. The girl looked like Amber, and she had told people that was her name. She had also told people she was from Escondido.

“We thought we had it solved,” Benton said.

But like so many leads and tips since Amber disappeared, the efforts were for naught.

Deputies found the girl, whose name really is Amber. And she had run away from her home in Escondido — Escondido Lakes, Wash. She was 17.

“Talk about your coincidences,” Benton said. “We thought for sure it was her. That's been the toughest part in the emotional roller coaster of getting what we believe are very credible tips and that Amber would be coming home, to the realization that it's not her.”

Escondido police, with the assistance at one time or another of dozens of law enforcement agencies — including the FBI — continue to search for Amber. They have been able to determine to some extent what didn't happen through a process of elimination, but what did happen remains a mystery.

Tips keep coming in about possible sightings. On Friday, Benton said, a tip prompted a search for Amber in South Carolina.

“Fresh eyes” in the department are reviewing thousands of pages of transcribed interviews and tips to make sure nothing has been overlooked.

“It's very frustrating from our standpoint that for the amount of time and resources we've thrown at this thing that we have yet to locate her or find out what happened to Amber,” Benton said.

Last seen Feb. 13
Amber was last seen at 7:10 a.m. Feb. 13 walking to Escondido High School on North Broadway. She was walking with a tall boy who has yet to be identified.

Two video recordings made from cameras at the school show that Amber did not keep walking toward the campus.

It's possible, though police think it unlikely, that she was abducted on the street. It's also possible she walked across the football field or turned around and headed north. The cameras would have recorded her if she had walked past the football field or near the main building.

By the next day, police were very concerned. They interviewed her family and friends.

“Essentially, we found out she is a normal 14-year-old,” Benton said. “She liked to read. She was somewhat of a loner, but it was very much out of character for her to be missing, and that's why we jumped on this case early on. We realized it was very suspicious. We've been working it full time ever since.”

On average, 550 missing-person reports come into Escondido police each year. Most concern teenagers, usually runaways found within a few days.

Nationally, it is estimated that more than 1 million children go missing for at least a short while each year. The vast majority are found within a day.

It has been more than eight months since Amber disappeared.

More than 500 interviews of friends, family, sex offenders and others have been conducted during the search.

More than 1,200 tips have come in. Many are useless, like suggestions that police check her cell phone records, which was done immediately. Some are far-fetched, like those from people claiming to be psychics who report such things as, “I see her standing by a white fence.”

A $100,000 reward for information has been offered.

Amber's cell phone went dead the morning she disappeared and was activated once, for only a few seconds, the next day.

“We don't know what significance that has,” Benton said.

Experts have dug into the computers Amber used, and even today some of the Internet activity isn't fully known because servers are located out of the country. Investigators say Amber didn't have any online activity that might suggest she was thinking of running away or that she was in contact with someone who might mean her harm.

A red pickup seen in a grainy video parked in the school bus lot near the football field has been all but dismissed as a lead.

“We think we've identified it,” Benton said. “We're hoping to confirm soon that the red truck had nothing to do with the case.”

Two months ago, police thought they had another strong lead.

They were getting tips about the sighting of a girl who looked just like Amber. She had been seen in the San Francisco area, as well as in parts of Central California and even Yosemite National Park.

Sam Rubin of Holtville said he picked up a girl and boy in Yosemite on July 29 or 30 who told him that they had been camping and that a bear had eaten their food.

On his way home, Rubin saw an Amber flier in a gas station in Lake Tahoe and was “99 percent” sure it was Amber he had picked up.

Police tracked the girl for weeks, and finally authorities found her in Clearlake, about 100 miles northwest of Sacramento.

She gave a false name, and Clearlake police sent Escondido her photograph. They, too, thought it was Amber.

It wasn't. It was a 15-year-old girl who looked remarkably similar and had run away from home in Antioch in the Bay Area three months earlier. She was returned to her mother.

Upcoming birthday
Amber will turn 15 on Sunday.

Her mother, Carrie McGonigle, and father, Maurice Dubois, have been doing all they can to keep Amber's case in the spotlight in the hope of generating more tips.

They've recently appeared on two nationally syndicated television shows and made headlines last month when they criticized the police for not doing enough. They have since met with police and have softened their criticism.

“There were some miscommunications,” Maurice Dubois said. “We were not told specifics about the case at the time. It's an open investigation, so we can't be told everything. We know that.”

The search and the waiting are difficult, he said.

“Yesterday was the eight-month anniversary of her disappearance. That was rough,” Dubois said Wednesday. “Planning a candlelight vigil for her 15th birthday, that's been rougher.”

The vigil will likely be at Lake Dixon in Escondido, but plans have not yet been completed.

Where do police go from here?

Benton said detectives will follow any new leads.

“If you're sitting at home reading this article and you think you have information that is significant — call,” said Lt. Craig Carter. “It's going to be that one piece of information that's going to push us over the edge. We'd like to have that one piece of information.”

Original Story from Union-Tribune

J. Harry Jones: (760) 737-7579;

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Voodoo trafficker faces conviction in New Jersey

By Joe Ryan/The Star-Ledger

NEWARK -- A federal prosecutor today urged jurors to convict a woman accused of smuggling West African girls to New Jersey and forcing them to work without pay in hair braiding salons, saying she preyed on her victims' hopes for a better life in America.

Akouavi Kpade Afolabi is accused of recruiting more than 20 girls from impoverished villages in Togo and Ghana and then using beatings and threats of voodoo curses to make them toil up to 14 hours a day at salons in Newark and East Orange.

"She knew these girls were young. They were poor. They were uneducated," said Shana W. Chen, an assistant U.S. Attorney, during her closing argument. "She knew they wanted a better life and they were susceptible to that promise."

Afolabi's lawyer, Olubukola O. Adetula, is scheduled to deliver his closing argument later today. He has argued during the four-week trial that the girls were, in fact, paid and has described Afolabi as a benevolent mother figure who treated the alleged victims like daughters.

Afolabi sat silently during the proceedings, her eyes downcast as she listened to a translator repeat the arguments in her native language, Ewe. She wore a black-and-white striped blouse; dark slacks concealed the shackles around her ankles.

Afolabi was arrested in 2007 along with her former husband and son. They have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit forced labor. Both told a federal judge that Afolabi, who has been in custody since her arrest, was the group's ringleader.

Prosecutors say the group manipulated a visa program to slip up to 20 girls and women into the country, ranging in age from 10 to 19. If convicted of forced labor, Afolabi faces up to 20 years in prison.

Afolabi housed the alleged victims in houses in Newark and East Orange.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moldovan pleads guilty in human trafficking case

By Bill Draper

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Moldovan, one of 12 people charged in a massive racketeering scheme, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to one count of forced labor trafficking, and agreed to cooperate with the government.

Alexandru Frumusache admitted in a plea bargain that he had aided and abetted an operation in which foreigners were provided with temporary work visas then fanned out to housekeeping jobs in 14 states.

Frumusache (pronounced froo-moo-SAHK-ee) admitted that he worked as a secretary for Giant Labor Solutions, a Kansas City-based labor-leasing company, and drove workers to various places, including Alabama, in violation of the work visas they had received.

He came to the U.S. on a temporary visa in November 2007 and worked in the Southeast, prosecutors said. He contacted Giant Labor Solutions in April 2008 seeking help in getting that visa extended, and in September 2008 moved to Kansas City and began working for GLS.

Eight Uzbekistan nationals and four other people were charged in May in the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted in Kansas City. Frumusache's court-appointed attorney, Tony Miller of Kansas City, said the 24-year-old from Moldova was only a minor player in the ring and was in many ways no different from the victims of the trafficking scheme.

"Everybody wants to come to America," Miller told the Associated Press after the court proceedings. "When put in difficult situations, we might overlook how others are treated, even if we're in the same situation. And that's unfortunate."

Officials say the ring operated from 2001 until this spring, offering people primarily from the Philippines, Dominican Republic and Jamaica a better life working in the U.S.

The indictment says the victims paid thousands of dollars for the temporary visas, which limited where they could work and what types of jobs they could perform. But officials say workers were told after they arrived that if they didn't do what they were told, their visas would be revoked and they or their families could be forced to pay a fee of $5,000 to $10,000.

Prosecutors say Giant Labor used the workers to fill labor contracts in Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina and Wyoming.

According to the indictment, workers in Kansas City were stuck in small, sparsely furnished apartments, had no access to their mail and were charged so many fees that they were sometimes told on payday they owed the company money. Prosecutors said the workers became trapped because they couldn't afford to leave.

Miller said Frumusache was victimized in the same way, forced to live in an overcrowded apartment and sleep on an air mattress, and that he was treated like a servant by the eight Uzbekistan nationals. He was paid $8 an hour with no overtime to drive workers to Alabama, Miller said.

As part of the plea agreement, Frumusache agreed to cooperate with the government in its prosecution of other defendants in the case. While he could face up to 20 years in prison without parole, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, prosecutors indicated his cooperation might result in a shorter sentence.

During his guilty plea, Frumusache questioned the supervised release stipulation because he had understood he would be deported.

Neither prosecutors nor Miller would discuss how much prison time, if any, they expected Frumusache to receive because of his guilty plea.

Sentencing was set for Feb. 25.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

London's Metro Police trying to shut down anti-trafficking team

Proposals by the Metropolitan Police to disband its specialist human trafficking team have been attacked by several leading charities.

The charities, including the NSPCC and Amnesty International, say the move would be seriously detrimental to the fight against trafficking.

They have written to Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson appealing for the unit not to be disbanded.
The Met said the team, set up in 2007, had direct funding for three years.

A final decision on whether the move will go ahead is expected within weeks.

'Specialist knowledge'
The BBC's June Kelly says in the team's short history, it has already been threatened with closure once before, because of funding problems, and later given a reprieve.
Now once again there is a proposal to disband a team which has been described as an international example of good practice, our correspondent says.
If the trafficking team is disbanded, the proposal is for its work to be given to other Met officers.
The charities, which also include End Child Prostitution and Trafficking and the Poppy Project, which helps victims of trafficking, have banded together to protest.

They stress that with victims traded for different reasons - including sex, forced labour, and domestic servitude - specialist policing is needed.

In their letter, they say: "Human trafficking is a complex, sensitive issue.
"Given the continually evolving nature of the crime, it has taken the Human Trafficking Team and Non-Governmental Organisations working in the field a number of years to develop their expertise in the area.

"Policing trafficking for forced labour, domestic servitude and all other forms of exploitation requires specialist knowledge and understanding of trafficking, dedicated resources and commitment."

'Financial pressures'
The charities also warn that when London plays host to the 2012 Olympics it could become even more of a magnet for the traffickers because experience shows that where large number of people gather there is an increased demand for sexual services.
A Met Police spokesman said it had been conducting a review about its response to "all organised immigration crime and trafficking".

"This has yet to be ratified but proposes clubs and vice [team] have enhanced resources and take over trafficking for sexual exploitation investigations."

Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said getting rid of the team, "even if there are serious financial pressures", was "very dangerous".

"Clubs and vice have experience of trafficking for sexual exploitation but their remit does not cover trafficking for forced labour or domestic servitude," he said.

On the funding issue, the Home Office said there was a "clear understanding" with the Met "that any future funding as of 1 April 2010 would be met from its central budget".

A spokeswoman added that the Home Office provides funding to the Serious Organised Crime agency, which investigates human trafficking, and the UK Human Trafficking Centre, a police-led multi-agency centre which co-ordinates intelligence and operations.

London is often the first stop in the UK for victims. Human trafficking has been described as the third largest international crime, following illegal drugs and arms trafficking.

The nature of the crime means that the cases which are detected are the tip of the iceberg, according to one senior Met officer.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs select committee in 2008, Commander Alan Gibson said: "I would not like to say how much of its is above water."

Commander Gibson said that in the previous two years the Met had dealt with 211 cases.