Month: November 2010
Published: Monday, November 8, 2010
On Saturday, Epsilon Sigma Rho Fraternity Inc. led a group of about 140 Sacramento State men, out of the total 600 community participants, to run in the seventh annual Run for a Safe Haven at William Land Park to protest domestic violence and human trafficking and support the non-profit organization My Sister’s House. The fraternity collected $1,050 in registration donations to give to the non-profit. “We are participating in this event because as men of integrity, respect, and heart for our community, we want to show Sacramento that there are good men out there that are willing to spread domestic violence and human trafficking awareness,” said Paolo San Luis, vice president external and philanthropy chair of Epsilon Sigma Rho. Epsilon Sigma Rho is the first multicultural fraternity in the U.S. established at Sac State. The fraternity is involved in several philanthropic areas, such as fighting against prostate cancer, tutoring high school kids and hosting a multicultural night. Luis chose to become involved with the Run for a Safe Haven because it benefits My Sister’s House, which aids women and children in the Central Valley’s Asian and Pacific Islander community that suffer from domestic abuse. My Sister’s House offers intervention services, safe shelters, and recovery programs for battered women and children. In an effort to raise awareness at the Run for a Safe Haven, My Sister’s House posted signs that mentioned statistics about domestic abuse in America, including the fact that every 15 seconds, one woman is beaten by her husband or partner. Luis is an advocate for the non-profit and recruited his fraternity to support the cause as well. Members from the Sacramento community were also at the run. Dan Baxter, 36, chose to participate in the event not only to support My Sister’s House, but also to take up his hobby of running. “I figured I would combine these two good reasons to come out here today,” Baxter said. Runner Armando Abila, 37, said he was impressed by the amount of people who attended the race. “It’s actually the second one I’ve been to,” Abila said. “It’s for a good cause – helping the kids and helping mothers out there. I think it’s great. The turnout’s awesome; I just can’t believe how many people are out here.” After the race, there were performers, singers and bands to entertain the crowd. Luis and one other fraternity member were one of the performing groups. “We sang our original music and had a guitar, a hand drum and vocals to entertain the crowd,” Luis said. Luis said he was proud of his fraternity and the student community that participated in the race. “As students and members of our community, we must take a stand, lead and the (politicians) will follow,” he said. “We are at the age of intellectual revolution, and there is no room in our society’s future for these crimes. Together, we can spread domestic violence and human trafficking awareness.” Micah Stevenson and Mike Suechting can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
The owner of a Thai spa and massage business on Sepulveda Boulevard played a major role in luring Thai farmworkers to the U.S. and then subjecting them to virtual slave labor, a federal indictment alleges.
By Natalie Ragus
A Culver City businesswoman is facing charges of conspiring to lure workers from Thailand with promises of good jobs and then forcing them into virtual slave labor.
Pranee Tubchumpol, owner of the Five Senses Spa Thai Massage at 4349 ½ Sepulveda Blvd., is named in a federal indictment that accuses her of playing a major role in what the FBI says was the largest human-trafficking case in U.S. history.
According to the indictment handed down by a Honolulu grand jury earlier this month, Tubchumpol worked as the director of international relations for Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a Beverly Hills labor contracting firm. The indictment alleges Tubchumpol; the company’s CEO, Mordechai Orian; and five other Global employees lured 400 Thai nationals to the United States under the H2A guest worker program and then forced them into virtual slave labor on farms in Hawaii and across the United States.
Tubchumpol, who is in custody in Hawaii awaiting a Nov. 2 hearing, faces a maximum of 70 years in prison.
According to the indictment, Tubchumpol acted as the liaison between Global and the Thai workers.
Clare Hanusz, a Hawaii-based lawyer who has given legal assistance to some of the workers involved in the case, says Tubchumpol’s role goes far deeper.
“[Tubchumpol] was a big actor in this scheme,” said Hanusz. “She was really [Orian’s] mouthpiece. She made it possible for him to do what he was doing.”
An attorney for Tubchumpol could not be located.
A spokesperson for Global Horizons did not return phone calls requesting comment, and calls to a phone number listed on Global Horizon’s website weren’t answered.
The indictment alleges that Global recruited farmworkers in rural Thailand in 2004 to work in the United States on three-year contracts, promising them they could earn several times their current wages.
The company then charged each worker between $9,500 and $21,000 in recruitment fees, from which Tubchumpol, Orian and the other accused Global employees took generous shares, the indictment says.
The workers calculated that, with the wages they would earn in the U.S., they could pay off the fee within a year. They would then be free to send the rest of their earnings back to their families in Thailand. But some workers never saw a paycheck, or they received checks for amounts far below what was the owed them, the indictment alleges.
Many of the workers had mortgaged their homes to meet the recruitment fee—a debt Global used to keep them in the country against their will, according to the indictment.
The Global employees, the indictment says, “compelled the labor and service of Thai guest workers by threatening to send the workers back to Thailand if the workers complained about late wages [or] insufficient work hours, knowing that if the Thai H2A guest workers were sent back to Thailand, they would be unable to repay their debts, resulting in serious economic harm to them and others.”
Workers who wanted to return to Thailand couldn’t because Global had confiscated their passports, the indictment claims.
One of the workers, who identified himself by the pseudonym “Ken” for fear of retaliation, told a Patch reporter that the conditions on the Yakima, Wash., farm he worked on became unbearable.
“The workers in my group lived in a building that was under construction. It had nothing in it,” he said, speaking through a translator. “It was so isolated, so remote. We didn’t know what to do…. We didn’t know where we were.”
Global employees constantly watched the workers on the farm to make sure they did not escape, Ken said.
Fear for his family consumed him. “[Global] had the keys to my farm,” Ken said. “I was scared. It was very depressing.”
Tubchumpol, Ken said, waved off the workers’ inquiries regarding their missing pay and other matters, saying she would “check with the office.”
Ken later escaped with only the clothes on his back and made his way to Los Angeles, where he eventually found work at a Thai restaurant.
“I feel very betrayed,” he said. “How could [the defendants] do this to us? We are all Thais and they do this to us.”
While Tubchumpol and two other Global employees remain in custody in Hawaii, Orian is free on $1 million bail and required to wear an ankle bracelet that monitors his whereabouts, said FBI agent Tom Simon.
The FBI is working with Thai authorities to locate and extradite two other defendants who remain at large in Thailand.
ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING ACTIVISTS JOIN STEINBERG TO SUPPORT BILL TO HELP ERADICATE SLAVERY & TRAFFICKING
SB 657 Passes Out of Assembly Judiciary Committee
(SACRAMENTO)– Advocates to end human trafficking today testified in support of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s (D-Sacramento) legislation which combats slavery and human trafficking by requiring large retailers and manufacturers doing business in California to tell consumers on their websites what steps, if any, they take to ensure their product supply chains are free of slavery and trafficking.
California is among the top destinations for traffickers and forced labor in the United States. Over 500 victims from 18 countries were identified in California between 1998 and 2003 and many more are never discovered.
“We inadvertently sanction and promote these crimes at home and abroad through the purchase of tainted goods and products,” Steinberg said. “By giving consumers the power of information they can leverage their purchasing decisions to encourage retailers and manufacturers to keep their supply chain free of trafficking and slavery.”
SB 657, The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee today following emotional testimony from a victim of slavery in the Los Angeles garment industry who was forced to work 18 hour days making dresses that were to be sold at major department stores. She described the physical and verbal abuse she endured from her trafficker who brought her to California with false promises of a good paying job to support her family back home and housing and food assistance. She was forced to clean the factory in the middle of the night once other employees went home. She was provided only one meal a day, slept in the factory’s storage room on a small mattress she shared with another victim, and had to bathe from a bucket- all while receiving no wages. It wasn’t until the FBI received a tip from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and the help of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking that she was able to regain her freedom.
Actress Julia Ormond, founder and president of the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking also expressed support for the legislation. “Business has a vital role to play in using their supply chains as the road map to tackling strategically and impactfully the worst forms of poverty on the planet…and has an opportunity to use it as a tool to spread American values across the globe.” Ormond said.
Existing state and federal laws make human trafficking a crime. They provide various penalties for offenders and support for victims, but they do little to address the growing markets that consume products tainted with slavery and trafficking.
The bills next stop is the Assembly floor.
SACRAMENTO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that Dominick West, 29, of Sacramento, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Edward J. Garcia, to 10 years and one month in prison for interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. West will serve his federal prison sentence concurrently with the 51-year sentence he is currently serving as a result of his conviction in Sacramento Superior Court for the 2007 murder of a young woman leaving a nightclub with her friends.
According to court documents filed in the case, on January 11, 2008, police received a report of a 15-year-old runaway from Montana. The police learned that the girl was being offered as a prostitute on Craigslist, and an undercover police officer made a “date” to meet her. The officer met her in a Sacramento motel room, confirmed that she was in fact the 15-year-old runaway, and took her into custody.
The girl told police that she had run away from her home in Montana at West’s urging when she began talking to him online. West paid for a bus ticket for the girl to come to Sacramento from Montana, and she arrived on December 25, 2007. West met her at the bus station and took her to a female friend’s apartment where he had the woman post an ad on the online service RedBook offering the girl as a prostitute. The girl prostituted for West out of a Sacramento motel for two days.
This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Innocence Lost Task Force, which includes agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Sacramento Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Carolyn K. Delaney, Jill M. Thomas, and Kyle F. Reardon prosecuted the case.
By BRAD STONE
Published: April 25, 2010
Craigslist, one of the most popular Web sites in the United States, is on track to increase its revenue 22 percent this year, largely from its controversial sex advertisements. That financial success is reviving scrutiny from law-enforcement officials who say the ads are still being used for illegal ends.
The ads, many of which blatantly advertise prostitution, are expected to bring $36 million this year, according to a new projection of Craigslist’s income. That is three times the revenue in last year’s projection.
Law-enforcement officials have been fighting a mostly losing battle to get Craigslist to rein in the sex ads. At the same time, officials of organizations that oppose human trafficking say the site remains the biggest online hub for selling women against their will.
Last week, in the latest example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 14 members of the Gambino crime family on charges of, among other things, selling the sexual services of girls ages 15 to 19 on Craigslist.
The company that provided the revenue projection, the Advanced Interactive Media Group, has been preparing such analyses since 2003. Followers of Craigslist consider A.I.M.’s work to be the most comprehensive estimates of the fiercely private company’s finances. The estimate was calculated based on the number of sex ads counted on Craigslist over the month of February and the fees for posting such ads — $10 initially and $5 for repeat postings.
James Buckmaster, Craigslist’s chief executive, said in an e-mail message that the site would not confirm the figures because it is private and does not discuss its finances. Of the sex ads, he wrote, “Of the thousands of U.S. venues that carry adult service ads, including venues operated by some of the largest and best known companies in the U.S., Craigslist has done the best and most responsible job of combating child exploitation and human trafficking.”
Mr. Buckmaster was referring to alternative newspapers, phone directories and sex Web sites that carry ads for prostitution, although authorities say that Craigslist is the largest place for such ads.
Craigslist, based in San Francisco, had seemed to put the conflict over its sex ads to rest. Attorneys general in 40 states, including New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut, investigated the company for facilitating criminal activity, after a wave of publicity about prostitution and violent crimes linked to the site.
Although Craigslist has continually argued that it is legally protected by the Communications Decency Act against liability for what its users post — an analysis that judges and legal experts generally agree with — it promised last May to begin manually monitoring these posts for illegal activity.
But it also decided to stop committing to donate the profits from sex ads to charity, saying it would make no further comment on how that money would be used.
In a private letter sent to Craigslist’s lawyer on Thursday, Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut, complained about the continued presence of prostitution ads on the site and asked what additional steps Craigslist was taking to keep such solicitations off the site.
He also asked the company to reveal precisely how much money those ads generated, and criticized the company’s announcement last May that it would no longer commit to donate those profits.
“I believe Craigslist acted irresponsibly when it unilaterally decided to keep the profits from these posts,” Mr. Blumenthal wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
In the e-mail message, Mr. Buckmaster said, “Misuse of Craigslist for criminal purposes is utterly unacceptable, and Craigslist will continue to work with its partners in law enforcement and at nongovernmental organizations until it is eliminated.”
He declined to say whether the company was continuing to donate revenue from sex ads to charity, but he said the company was continuing to develop its charitable initiatives.
The company has two charitable organizations; one, the nine-year-old Craigslist Foundation, which received $648,000 in contributions in 2008, according to public documents, does not make any donations. It “connects people and organizations to the resources they need to strengthen communities,” according to its Web site.
There is also a newer organization, the Craigslist Charitable Trust, which was capitalized in 2008 with $2.7 million by Mr. Buckmaster and Craig Newmark, the company’s founder, according to public documents. But little else is known about it, and Mr. Buckmaster declined to comment further on the organization or say whether that was the money from the sex ads.
Meanwhile, staff members for the attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, have counted more than 200,000 sex ads since late 2008 posted to Craigslist in Chicago alone — which they estimate have generated $1.7 million for the company. Officials in Illinois and Connecticut, as well as South Carolina, are leading the effort to get the site to improve its monitoring of sex ads.
Cara Smith, Ms. Madigan’s deputy chief of staff, said Craigslist’s manual review of the ads had had a minimal effect. “Certainly the manual monitoring has tempered the photos posted along with the ads, but I think there’s no question that the site continues to facilitate prostitution,” she said.
The A.I.M. Group, which sells research on the advertising market to newspapers and Web sites, conducts its annual Craigslist study by tabulating all the posts to Craigslist in 39 major United States cities over a 30-day period, and then extrapolating to reach a final revenue figure.
This year, the study showed Craigslist on track to bring in $122 million in 2010, a 22 percent increase over its projected revenue last year. Though the site is largely free, it does charge people to post job listings in 19 major United States cities, and real estate listings in New York City, in addition to sex listings in all 438 markets in the United States. Revenue in those other categories remained largely unchanged since last year, according to A.I.M.
The increase in revenue from sex ads to $36.3 million for the year, according to A.I.M., was largely caused by Craigslist’s decision last May to double the rate for these ads in all of its American markets to $10.
The windfall from sex ads has touched a raw nerve with groups that oppose human trafficking, who are typically heated in their discussion of the company.
“Craigslist has not given any indication that they are outraged and disturbed that their site is the primary way children are bought in the country,” said Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which provides assistance to sexually exploited and trafficked women. “All they have done is made cosmetic changes.”
Craigslist’s reliance on the Communications Decency Act has also angered law-enforcement officials, who complain that the law could not have been drafted with this particular example in mind. But the company has repeatedly won rulings in cases brought against it, including one in 2008 over discriminatory housing ads. A federal appeals court said Craigslist was an online service provider, not a publisher, and so was protected by federal law.
Questions about where that revenue is going are sure to arise from this latest financial analysis of Craigslist. In an accompanying report, the A.I.M. Group estimated Craigslist’s expenses at under $50 million, though it acknowledged that this particular calculation involved “educated guesses.” The analysis took into account estimates of salaries, server and bandwidth costs, and the lawyer fees associated with Craigslist’s continuing legal battle with a minority shareholder, eBay.
Even if the numbers are slightly off, that leaves a lot of room for big profits. Mr. Buckmaster and Mr. Newmark own a majority of the company’s shares and by all accounts do not live flashy lifestyles.
LOS ANGELES — FBI officials say they have rescued 52 children in a series of raids around the country aimed at under-age prostitution.
Authorities say the youngest victim was a 10 year old girl prostituted by her mother to migrant workers.
The bureau and local police officials also arrested 60 pimps during the three-day enforcement effort in 36 cities.
The raids are the latest in a long-running Operation Cross Country aimed at child prostitution rings around the country.
Almost 1,600 agents and officers took part in the raids, which led to federal and state charges against a total of 691 suspects.
The investigations typically target places where minors are likely to be sold for sex, including truck stops, casinos, public streets, and Internet Web sites.
Juveniles Recovered by FBI Field Office:
Atlanta – 2
Chicago – 4
Cleveland (Toledo) – 7
Dallas – 2
Houston – 3
Las Vegas – 4
Los Angeles ( Riverside) – 2
Miami – 1
New York City – 5
Portland – 4
<strong>Sacramento – 4</strong>
San Diego – 3
Seattle – 9
Tampa – 2