Wyden/Cornyn Sex Trafficking Bill Passes Senate

United States Senate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Jennifer Hoelzer (Wyden)
December 9, 2010 202-224-3789
Kevin McLaughlin (Cornyn)
202-224-0704
Wyden/Cornyn Sex Trafficking Bill Passes Senate
Bill To Provide Aid for Victims of Sexual Slavery and Crackdown On Those Who Exploit Underage Girls Moves to the House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. – The United States Senate unanimously approved a bill to aid victims of modern sexual slavery and give law enforcement the tools to investigate and prosecute sex traffickers who exploit underage girls and force them into the sex trade. Sponsored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act will create a six-state pilot program to help law enforcement crackdown on pimps and traffickers and create shelters, provide treatment, counseling, and legal aid for the underage girls that are forced into sexual slavery. This bill will be considered a model to help rescue the hundreds of thousands of underage girls believed to be forced into the sex trade in America. According to FBI estimates, more than 100,000 underage girls are exploited for commercial sex in the U.S. each year.
“Senator Cornyn and I have long believed that sex trafficking is modern day slavery and the poor young women forced into the sex trade are victims of the real criminals – the pimps and traffickers,” Wyden said. “Today, the United States Senate agreed with us. Not only will this bill create a working model to help these young women break the cycle of exploitation for good, it will provide new tools for law enforcement and prosecutors to put these modern day slave owners behind bars.”
“Our nation must remain committed to ending the scourge of human trafficking. This legislation will provide valuable assistance to state and local governments on the front lines of battling organized criminal syndicates and violent gangs that traffic humans for labor and sex,” said Cornyn. “I am proud to partner with Senator Wyden on this important bipartisan effort.”
The Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act would authorize block grants to six locations deemed to have significant sex trafficking activity, require a workable plan to provide comprehensive, wrap-around services to sex trafficking victims – including the establishment of a shelter facility – and require demonstrated participation by all levels of law enforcement, prosecutors, and social service providers.
Each grant will be funded at $2-2.5 million per year with the option of renewal for two additional years. Some of the items that can be funded by these block grants include:
· A shelter for trafficking victims;

· Clothing and other daily needs in order to keep victims from returning to the street;

· Victims’ assistance counseling and legal services;

· Education or job training classes for victims;

· Specialized training for law enforcement and social service providers;

· Police officer salaries – patrol officers, detectives, investigators;

· Prosecutor salaries, and other trial expenses;

· Investigation expenses – wire taps, expert consultants, travel, other “technical assistance” expenditures; and

· Outreach, education, and prevention efforts, including programs to deter offenders.
The bill will help encourage and boost prompt reporting of missing and abducted children to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. With the help of more timely reporting, law enforcement will be able to identify repeat runaways who are statistically more likely to be lured into prostitution.

Editorial: Trafficking award

Three cheers for Anna Rodriguez of Bonita Springs.

She is up for possible induction to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. She is among the 10 nominees for the three spots this year.

Her distinction is public service that was, and still is, ahead of its time. As director of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, she tutored our community and much of the rest of the country — before most of us knew what she was talking about. We have come to learn the hard way that human trafficking is what the name implies — smuggling people, even children, from poor countries into the United States for “opportunities” that often amount to slavery. These traffickers deal in humans rather than drugs or other illegal goods.

A native of Puerto Rico, Rodriguez’ induction in the Hall of Fame would be highly appropriate. Either way she can be assured of the esteem and gratitude already earned from her Southwest Florida home.

© 2010 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2 Pinoys sentenced for forced labo

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North American News Bureau
Posted at 12/11/2010 10:48 AM | Updated as of 12/11/2010 10:48 AM

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Two Filipinos found guilty of victimizing 39 Filipino guest workers were sentenced to prison.

Sophia Manuel, 41, alleged mastermind of the human trafficking operation, was sentenced to 78 months in prison. Alfonso Baldonado, 45, received a 51-month prison sentence.

Manuel and Baldonando own Quality Staffing Corporation Services that obtained cheap labor by making false promises to entice Filipinos to come to the US as guest workers

Their 39 victims were Filipinos who paid up to $5,000 in recruitment and placement fees for jobs in the US. Many ended up jobless in Florida and buried in debt in the Philippines

Other victims were forced to provide cheap labor and services to some hotels and resorts in south Florida.

The victims said they were repeatedly threatened with arrest and deportation if they failed to perform their jobs.

One of the plaintiffs, said Manuel and Baldonado have victimized more people.

“They should receive the maximum prison sentence because there are other victims who have not yet stepped forward to complain against them,” he said.

Fil-Am lawyer Marissa De Guzman-Cobb, former Assistant Attorney General in the State of Florida, assisted the Filipino victims in prosecuting the defendants.

“It is my belief that justice was served. The judge was well within his discretion to exact the sentence that he did. I think he found the statements by the Filipino victims extremely compelling,” De Guzman-Cobb said. Balitang America

27 people found in human trafficking raids in Largo, Clearwater

LARGO — The two white vans would pull up to the nondescript beige duplex on the dead-end street early in the morning.

At the honk of a horn, a dozen or more Hispanic and Asian men and women would come out of the home and pile into the vans.

Neighbors wouldn’t see them again until late at night or early the next morning when the vans reappeared to drop them off.

“That’s seven days a week,” said 67-year-old Sylvia Leuci, a home health nurse who works at a home across the street.

Just a few miles away in Clearwater, a similar scene was unfolding each day at a one-story tan home with a single-car garage and an overgrown lawn.

On Wednesday, the FBI and local law enforcement officers raided both homes and a Chinese restaurant on East Bay Drive as part of an investigation into human trafficking.

In all, authorities found 27 people living in the two homes at 2820 Oaklawn Ave. in Largo and 2401 Havana Drive in Clearwater.

Investigators are looking at the possibility that the people were being forced to work at the Country Super Buffet at 5010 East Bay Drive, said special agent Dave Couvertier, a spokesman for the Tampa field office of the FBI.

No arrests were made, he said, but the investigation is ongoing.

Corporate filings with the state list the registered agent of the business as Jian Hui Wang, who also was renting the Largo home.

The people found at the homes are being treated as victims and were being interviewed Wednesday to determine the circumstances of their status in the United States, investigators said. Most are Hispanic and Asian, and all appear to be adults, Couvertier said.

The Salvation Army and World Relief are working to assist the people with housing, food and clothing, Couvertier said.

At the Largo address, 19 people were found.

“We noticed these big vans coming and going with all of these people,” said next-door neighbor Michelle Kramer. “They leave early in the morning and don’t get back until late at night, like midnight, sometimes 1 (a.m.).”

Kramer said “tons of people” lived at the home and they rarely communicated with neighbors. There are three bedrooms in each of the two units, she said.

Mike Modha, 45, of Lutz said the home belongs to his business partner, Akshay Patel. Modha, a Realtor, said Patel left him in charge of the property when he went to England to seek treatment for health problems more than 18 months ago.

Modha said he rented the duplex in January to Wang, whom he knew as Kenny. The rent is $1,300 and the lease says that six people can stay in each unit.

On the lease, Wang listed his employer as Royal Buffet at 9550 U.S. 19. in Port Richey. Modha said Wang told him he would use one duplex for himself and another for restaurant workers.

Except for one month, Wang always paid the rent on time Modha said.

“If they broke the law, they should be punished,” said Modha, himself an immigrant who came from Gujarat, India, 12 years ago.

In September, he and his wife became U.S. citizens.

At the Clearwater address, eight people were found.

Neighbors said the residents, who appeared to be Asian, had lived there since summer. Emily DeGarmo, 22, who lives across the street, said “they had a lot of people coming in and out.”

The home’s owner could not be reached for comment.

Early Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen FBI agents, Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies and other authorities were going in and out of the house. They carried items in brown paper evidence bags and in black and yellow bins.

“This specific situation should serve as what I refer to as a wake-up call to the folks in our local community,” Couvertier said. “It can happen anywhere. It’s not limited to this area.”

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem that usually takes the form of forced labor, domestic servitude or forced prostitution, the most common of the three. In the United States, it’s estimated that anywhere from a couple of thousand to several thousand people a year are victims of human trafficking, Couvertier said.

According to a 2009 draft of a report by the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, labor trafficking is the most prevalent type of human trafficking in Florida.

A finalized 2010 version of the report, commissioned by the state Legislature, notes that Florida was the third-leading state, with 296 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline in 2009.

Between May 2009 and June 2010, the state Department of Children and Families received reports of 156 trafficking incidents through its hotline. Of those, 22 cases were verified as trafficking, the report said.

Worldwide, 49,105 victims were identified in 2009, according to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons report published by the U.S. Department of State.

Officers with the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking said their investigation began several months ago with a tip from a source they declined to identify. During the investigation, they were able to gain intelligence that led to Wednesday’s search warrants.

Couvertier and Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts said it’s important for people to be aware of what’s happening around them and to report suspicious activity.

“It will help us, hopefully, to rescue women, children and men brought in (to the United States) under the ruse of promises of a better life,” Couvertier said.

Unfortunately, Couvertier said, “They don’t know what’s waiting for them on the other side.”

Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Suspect anything?

Clearwater police said some signs of human trafficking include large numbers of people living in the same home, people who seem abnormally withdrawn or afraid and indications people are being held against their will, such as locks on windows. Authorities ask that anyone who thinks they have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking in Pinellas, Pasco or Hillsborough counties to call the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking hotline at (727) 562-4917. In other areas, contact the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Human traffickers sentenced

I am happy to see this case has finally come to an end. I can tell you that six of the 39 survivors spoke and gave a powerful statement to the judge on how their lives were affected by the action of the traffickers. FCAHT staff is very proud of the survivors of this case as they have persevered and have been able to move on with their lives. All of them are happy and free!

The owners of a Boca Raton staffing company were sentenced to more than four years in federal prison on Friday after pleading guilty to charges they engaged in a human trafficking scheme.

Quality Staffing Services Corp. owner Sophia Manuel was given a 78-month sentence and co-owner Alfonso Baldonado Jr. was given 51 months.

They were indicted in April on charges they conspired to hold 39 Filipino nationals in service in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida.

Manuel also pleaded guilty to making false statements in an application she filed with the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal H2B guest worker program.

Manuel and Baldonado previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up front recruitment fees, a press release from the U.S. Justice Department said. Defendants then compelled the victims’ labor and services through threats to have the workers arrested and deported knowing the workers faced serious economic harm and possible incarceration for nonpayment of debts in the Philippines.

The workers’ passports were confiscated and they were forced to live in overcrowded, substandard conditions without adequate food or drinking water, according to court documents.

“These defendants exploited vulnerable individuals for their own financial gain, depriving the victims of their civil rights,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a press release. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute cases of forced labor where victims have been robbed of their freedom and dignity.”

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, “Today’s sentencing reminds us that America remains a land of freedom and opportunity for immigrants, not of servitude and fear. Forced labor is illegal and we will enforce the laws that protect our immigrant communities from abuse.”

“Human traffickers target vulnerable victims, including minors, who desire a better life and end up being lured into a situation where they are deprived of their basic human rights,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. “These deplorable conditions will not be tolerated in this country and ICE will continue its commitment to rescue victims of this form of modern day slavery and arrest the traffickers that exploit them.”

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