Man gets 14 years for selling girl into sex

A man who picked up a 14-year-old girl off a Milwaukee street, took nude pictures of her, posted them on a website and then sold her body to men at a hotel was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison Friday.

Amani Booker, 35, admitted that he and another of his prostitutes, Holly Arnold, found the girl walking on W. North Ave. on May 21 and told her she could make a lot of money.

But his attorney, Brian Mullins, insisted his client didn’t know how old the girl was. Mullins also said the girl was already prostituting before meeting Arnold and Booker.

According to court documents, the three went to the Red Roof Inn on S. 13th St. in Oak Creek, where Booker gave the girl marijuana to smoke and then took pictures of her naked. He posted the photos on a local website.

Arnold and the girl then had sex together with at least two men. A day or so later, Oak Creek police discovered the girl during an investigation into escort services. The FBI and Milwaukee police, who handled the two other federal trafficking cases, also investigated the case.

Booker admitted to authorities that he had acted as a pimp for more than 10 years and his prostitutes could make him more than $1,000 a night, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Wall. Booker was just charged with the one incident involving the child prostitute in May.

Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert said other men in Milwaukee who might do the same as Booker need to know what kind of prison time they, too, could face.

“They should know there is a cost, a tremendous cost that must be paid,” Clevert said. “You used and abused women and at least one child.”

The case is one of three federal child sex trafficking cases filed in Wisconsin in the past two years by the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee. Earlier this month, Milwaukee County prosecutors won the first conviction for human trafficking in state court.

Wall called sex trafficking a “dirty, destructive business.”

“This business destroys the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Wall, who has prosecuted all the federal sex trafficking cases.

Booker, whose girlfriend spoke on his behalf Friday, said he had always looked for the easy way in life.

“I have hurt more than myself,” Booker said.

Sentencing guidelines called for 14 to 17 years in prison for Booker. His attorney asked for the minimum sentence: 10 years in prison.

Booker has a long criminal history, which goes back to age 17, according to Wall. In separate cases, Booker was convicted of wounding a man by shooting him in the head in 1995, dealing cocaine in 2004 and more recently attacking one of his prostitutes with a knife, Wall said.

On Thursday, Clevert sentenced Arnold, 25, to a year in prison.

In July, Clevert sentenced Todd “King Tut” Carter to 25 years in prison for conspiracy and child sex trafficking. Carter had admitted prostituting at least a half a dozen teenage girls in Wisconsin and other states.

His son, Nicholas Harrison, who also pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of children by force, was sentenced to six years in prison. He had cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his father.

The other federal case involves Derrick Avery, known nationally as “Pimp Snooky,” who is charged with operating a ruthless prostitution ring for more than a decade. The Milwaukee native, who came up in connection with the corruption investigation of former Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee, was arrested in Las Vegas.

Avery has claimed that he has been an actor portraying “Pimp Snooky” but was never a real pimp.

The plight of those coerced into labor or sex trades was the focus of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day last week.

Earlier this month, prosecutors won the first conviction for human trafficking in state court. Jermaine Rogers was found guilty in Milwaukee County Circuit Court of 11 felonies, including sexual assault and human trafficking, related to his efforts to build a stable of prostitutes.

According to one complaint, he picked up a woman in his white Cadillac in October 2009 with the promise of a ride home. Instead, he took her to a different house, assaulted her and told her she would be working for him. The victim managed to call law enforcement later and was able to escape.

Another complaint charged that Rogers picked up a juvenile girl around 2005, sexually assaulted her in a house, made her work as a prostitute in Milwaukee and Chicago, and beat her up after she tried to run away.

Reporter Bruce Vielmetti contributed to this report

Two Pinay trafficking victims sue employers for over $350,000 in back wagesJERRIE M. ABELLA, GMANews.TV

The “American Dream” is one of prosperity, opportunities and equality, but for Filipina migrant workers in the US Leticia Moratal and Jacqueline Aguirre, what they have experienced is exactly the opposite.

Moratal and Aguirre, victims of human trafficking in New York, have sought the help of a Filipino migrants’ organization there in suing their former employers, whom they accused of forced labor.

In a press conference in Woodside, Queens in New York City this week, the two Filipina workers recounted their ordeal at the hands of their employers, as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) vowed to assist the two in their legal battle.

“I did not receive a single penny from my employers. They did not treat me well and they turned me into a slave. They even confiscated my passport and I was not allowed to talk to other Filipinos, nor use the phone or computer to communicate with anybody,” Moratal said in a release.

Ten years of unpaid work

Moratal arrived in New York in 2001 on a B-1 visa supposedly to work as a baby sitter, but was made an all-around domestic worker by fellow Filipinos Elsa and Augusto Nolasco, and their daughter Laarni.

Moratal was promised a monthly salary of salary of US$800, which she said she never once received after almost ten years of working.

In a separate article on the Filipino-American community news site Asian Journal, Moratal narrated that she was later taken to Florida to work in the home of the couple’s daughter to take care of their baby granddaughter.

Moratal described how she was subjected to cruel treatment and psychological abuse, saying the family used to call her a slave and made her sleep in the stock room or on the floor of the baby’s room.

“I used to cry myself to sleep every night because of my situation. They took all my human rights. They even changed my name to Baba. One day, the girl I was taking care of returned from school with her friends. She introduced me to her friends as ‘Baba, my slave’. All I can do then was to pray,” Moratal recalled in the article.

In 2009, Moratal was brought back to the house of the Filipino couple in Jamaica, New York, where her aunt was able to track her down. She finally escaped from her employers’ home in December 2010.

Through Felix Vinluan, an immigration lawyer and human rights advocate, Moratal sued the Nolascos before the New York Eastern District Court in Brooklyn for human trafficking, involuntary servitude, unlawful conduct, and wage violations, among others.

Vinluan is also filing a U-Visa for Moratal as a victim of human trafficking so she can legalize her status and work in New York.

False promises

On the other hand, Aguirre, an accountant in the Philippines, said she was given an accountancy position and promised a green card by employers Dorothy de Castro and Perlita Jordan, owners of Best Care Agency.

She was, however, made to work as a one-woman office worker, was denied the $19 per hour she was as promised, and was forced to do overtime work without payment.

Aguirre’s application for a green card was subsequently denied, as her employers did not have the financial capacity to sponsor her. She is currently the subject of removal proceedings by the US Department of Homeland Security for overstaying.

Moratal is seeking compensation for back-wages amounting to $250,000, while Aguirre, also represented by Vinluan, seeks back-wages of at least $100,000, as well as for damages related to their abuse and maltreatment.

“Some people say I should just go back home to the Philippines or I should just hide from the authorities, but why should I? I know I never did anything wrong,” said Aguirre.

Anti-trafficking campaign

During the press conference, Filipino migrants’ group NAFCON, an alliance of Filipino migrant organizations across 23 cities in the US, renewed its efforts against human trafficking as it relaunched its Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign.

The STOP Campaign was first launched in 2002 by one of NAFCON’s member organizations, Philippine Forum, a not-profit community-based organization in New York, when a domestic worker sued her employers for human trafficking.

With the support of the community and after years of struggle, domestic worker Elma Manliguez was finally granted the first T-visa, issued to human trafficking victims, in New York in 2009.

She was then able to come home to the Philippines to see her child whom she had not seen since she left the Philippines in 1997.

NAFCON member organizations include the Philippine Forum, KABALIKAT Domestic Workers’ Support Network, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), Anakbayan New York/New Jersey, SANDIWA National Alliance of Filipino-American Youth and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE).

2.9 million Pinoys in US

“More than 4,000 Filipinos leave the country everyday to search for jobs in other places, and hundreds more are being trafficked as a result of the Philippine government’s lack of attention on the issues of our migrant workers,” said NAFCON’s Rusty Fabunan.

“Leticia (Moratal) and Jackie (Aguirre) are only 2 of them, but these two voices will be echoed by the community and they will get the justice they deserve if we all work together. Collective action never fails,” he added.

For its part, Philippines-based Migrante International said it will assist in contacting the families of Moratal and Aguirre, and in pressuring the government to assist the two in their cases.

The concentration of Filipino migrants in the US remains the highest at almost 2.9 million as of December 2009, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

While fewer overseas Filipino workers are choosing the US as their destination country, the US remains the top source of OFW remittances at US$7.3 billion in 2009, or over 40 percent of the total US$17.3 billion in OFW remittances from across the world for the same year. — TJD

Connecticut Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Child Sex Trafficking Charges

David B Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that JARELL SANDERSON, 31, of New Britain, pled guilty yesterday, January 20, before United States District Judge Mark R Kravitz in New Haven to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children and two counts of sex trafficking of children. According to court documents and statements made in court, SANDERSON and co-defendant Hassanah Delia recruited two 14-year-old girls to work as prostitutes. In July 2009, SANDERSON and Delia transported the girls to hotels in Hartford and East Hartford, where the girls engaged in sexual conduct with men in exchange for money that was paid either to SANDERSON or Delia. The men who paid to engage in sexual conduct with the girls had responded to an advertisement placed on a website by SANDERSON by calling a phone that was answered by Delia, who then set up appointments for the girls.

On December 7, 2010, Delia, of East Hartford, plead guilty to two counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion. “Prostituting children is a heinous crime, and the United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to prosecuting those who exploit children,” stated United States Attorney Fein. “I want to thank the FBI, East Hartford Police, and the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section for their tremendous efforts in bringing these defendants to justice.” “As a result of the joint efforts of the FBI, East Hartford Police Department, and the United States Attorney’s Office on this priority investigation, this guilty plea will assure that this offender will no longer be in a position to endanger children,” stated Kimberly K Mertz, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Judge Kravitz scheduled sentencing for April 12, 2011, at which time SANDERSON faces a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum term of life imprisonment.

SANDERSON also will be ordered to pay restitution to compensate the victims of his crimes. Delia also awaits sentencing. This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the East Hartford Police Department. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David E Novick and Trial Attorney Alecia Riewerts Wolak of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice.

Reported by: FBI

Super Bowl is gold mine for pimps

One statistic from Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, Florida last February is only an estimate and received little media coverage, but is of great importance to many individuals and families and to the nation itself.

Super Bowl is gold mine for pimps

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton celebrates after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIV football game in Miami, Florida February 7, 2010. Child advocates and law enforcement officials say the Super Bowl is a magnet for sex traffickers and their victims, often minors.

Along with all the fans and the players, the commentators and the business people, the party-goers and the curious, the Miami Super Bowl also drew about 10,000 prostitutes, many of them child prostitutes, or former child prostitutes – “modern-day slaves,” as Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, calls them – brought to town by their traffickers from all over the country.

“Major sporting events, like the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the BCS championship games, are opportunities for pimps and traffickers to bring in their young workers to meet a demand,” said Loren Wohlgemuth, media relations specialist for Shared Hope International.

“They assume that, in such venues, a large number of people will break the law, and sadly they’re correct,” Wohlgemuth said.

Advocates for children organized in Florida last February to make people aware of the sex trafficking and to stop it, and they registered some successes. The advocates – national groups like Shared Hope International and the Rebecca Project, as well as local groups like Traffick9/11 – are now gearing up to combat the traffickers who will be coming to Arlington, Texas — and Dallas, Ft. Worth and Mansfield — this February for Super Bowl XLV. Federal, state and local law enforcement are joining in the effort.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that Texas already sees 10 thousand human trafficking victims a year. He called the Super Bowl “a magnet for prostitution and human trafficking” and said it could bring another 10,000 trafficking victims to Arlington for just a week.

Advocates have partnered for a national I’m Not Buying It Super Bowl campaign to raise awareness of the problem, and alert local officials, law enforcement and citizenry.

“Let the public know this is going on and let them put pressure on their local officials to do something about it,” Wohlgemuth said. “Our main concern is the children who are being exploited.”

The campaign kicks off at a town hall meeting in Mansfield, Texas, on Friday.

Advocates estimate the number of minors trafficked in the sex trade in the United States between 100,000 and 300,000. Most of them are girls. The average age of initial exploitation is 13.

Sex Trafficking in the United States: Children Across America are Unseen Victims

Julie*, a California girl-next-door, star volleyball player and award-winning concert pianist thought the boy who invited her to his home was her friend. But after he and four other classmates gang raped her, this naïve 15-year old blamed herself. Consumed with guilt, she told no one — especially not her parents.

“I became suicidal, smoked weed and slept around,” Julie says. “I went from the perfect angel to a little girl lost in the world of drugs and men.”

The emotional trauma drove her from the people who cared about her. She dropped out of school, ran away, and became a real “ho”, like the rap lyrics she and her so-called friends idolized. Alone and vulnerable, she was an easy mark for a sadistic pimp, Maurice MacFarland, a.k.a. “Genius,” who followed the pimp “code book” to the letter. He began the grooming process by plying her with gifts, words of love and drugs. He then beat and raped her into submission before trafficking her to Washington D.C. where she was rented by the hour to powerful men with deep pockets. If she didn’t earn $1,000 a day, he beat her viciously.

Eventually, they made it back to California where the two were arrested. Her luck changed when she was picked up by a detective who worked closely with Lois Lee, Ph.D., the founder of Children of the Night in Van Nuys, Calif., whose life work is rescuing teen prostitutes. Julie’s long road to normalcy began while she was in Lee’s capable hands. Though terrified, she agreed to testify against “Genius” who is currently serving  77-year, eight-month sentence for sexually exploiting and trafficking a child.

A pioneer in rescuing America’s sex slaves, Lee hit the streets long before law enforcement even recognized prostituted children. What began as a study in human sexuality for a Ph.D. dissertation became her life’s work. For 27 years, she says she has been in the middle of a tornado.

Actually, it’s more of a tsunami.

Julie is just one of the young girls Lee has rescued since she founded Children of the Night in 1979. Over the last 30 years, she has raised $40 million in private funds to provide shelter, an onsite school and specialized services needed to help these girls return to physical and mental health. Her hotline receives more than 10,000 calls a year from all over the country and many of the program’s graduates — including Julie — have gone on to college and become lawyers, executives and educators.

In the beginning, Lee ran the organization from her small apartment, supporting victims age 11 to 17 through her financial aid, part-time teaching and research fees. A generous grant from the Playboy Foundation enabled her to buy food and turn her home into a hotline for girls (800-551-1300) caught in the sordid web of life on the street.

While child prostitution is an equal opportunity crime, Caucasian girls bring top dollar on the streets — $60 to $300 for 15-minute to one-hour increments. Blondes with blue eyes known as “swans” command even more and in Minnesota, Native American girls are in high demand.

Contrary to the belief that the sexual exploitation of children only takes place in Third World countries, it occurs daily in the United States. A well-known trafficking highway leads down the Eastern seaboard, through Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Hawaii, Minneapolis and more. No city — regardless the size — is immune.

Trafficking minors for prostitution is the third highest money-maker for organized crime in the U.S. Only gun and drug sales are higher. Teens are recruited in arcades, malls, entertainment centers, tourist attractions, concerts and even schools.

The problem has become so enormous that it will take the combined efforts of law enforcement, non-profits and the faith community to stem the tide.Lee assists other agencies around the country to develop programs similar to hers to rehabilitate prostituted teens who suffer from PTSD, Stockholm Syndrome (victims become sympathetic to their perpetrators), STDs, HIV-Aids, educational issues and psychological trauma.

Children of the Night has been in the fight longer than any other American organization. Others have followed, but more are needed to join forces and battle this crime against children.

Seattle, Portland tackle sex trafficking of juveniles

Both cities have been painted as having extraordinarily bad problems. In fact, they appear to be leaders in tackling the issue, so they have more arrests.

Child prostitution appears to be mushrooming in Seattle, even though its I-5 sister city to the south, Portland, is more notorious for child sex trafficking.

“What I see on the ground is the problem is getting worse,” said Leslie Briner, a social worker who is also associate director of residential services for The Bridge, a nine-bed residential treatment program for teen prostitutes that opened in Seattle last June.

“The age is trending down and the frequency is trending up,” she said. The average age teens get into prostitution is 13.

Indeed, both Seattle and Portland have significant problems, but neither deserves a label as a national hub for underage prostitution, according to law enforcement experts in both cities. Both, though, have struggled with that image.

Dan Rather called Portland “Pornland,” a model city that’s becoming “a major center for child trafficking.” ABC’s World News and Nightline called Portland one of the largest hubs for child sex trafficking in America.

Meanwhile, Seattle has consistently shown the most juveniles rounded up in prostitution crackdowns for three years running now. Despite that, InvestigateWest’s reporting shows that the actual problem in Seattle and Portland may not be any worse than most large cities.

However, the two Northwest cities are better at identifying those juveniles involved. The numbers in the FBI sweeps, for example, reflect more intense efforts to find those juveniles in both cities.

In November 2010, for example, King and Pierce Counties had 23 of the 69 young people rescued nationwide during Operation Cross Country V sweep conducted as part of the FBI’s “Innocence Lost” project. Of those, 16 were in King Co., and seven in Pierce, said Assistant Special-Agent-in-Charge Steven Dean of the Seattle FBI office.

“We had the most for the third year in a row,” he said. “But it’s illogical to say it’s a bigger problem here. It means we’re addressing it better.”

Portland came in second in the nation in the latest sweep with seven juvenile prostitutes recovered. But its law enforcers echoed those in Seattle, saying their ranking as the top spot in the nation for the number of children trafficked is undeserved.

“I giggle at that every time I hear it, to be honest with you. Everybody wants a ranking, everybody wants a number,” said Keith Bickford, a deputy sheriff for Multnomah County who serves as director of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force. “Is Oregon known across the nation as a place that we have a problem? Absolutely. Oregon has a large runaway youth population that fall prey to sex trafficking… Are we ranked somehow? No.”

Glenn Norling, supervisor special agent at the FBI Portland, said data from nationwide stings are not crime statistics, and serve as poor substitutes. Some task forces work for several days to participate in a sting, for example, while others work a few hours. Some may set aside planned arrests for a sting, looking to make a bigger impact for publicity’s sake.

There’s another reason the number it produced may not be a yardstick for the child sex trafficking industry in America: Concern about tourism and other economic factors have prevented some cities from participating in the Innocence Lost project, the national network of task forces fighting child sex trafficking.

Nicholas said the city he would name as most active for child sex trafficking does not have a task force, though he declined to name it

“It appears as though they have minimal to no problem at all when it comes to this, and that’s not the case at all,” he said.

Yet drawing a clear picture of how Seattle and Portland fit into the overall problem of child sex trafficking in America is a difficult task.

“You will never get the number, the true number of kids involved in child prostitution, because they are such a transient population,” said Evan Nicholas, an agent in the Crimes Against Children Unit at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the manager of Innocence Lost.

Eight years into its massive crime-fighting effort, Innocence Lost has swelled to 40 task forces, opened 1,000 cases, made 4,000 arrests, and recovered 1,038 victims. But as the project popularizes child sex trafficking as an issue, Innocence Lost shares little data to help frame issue. The locations of task forces are not always public, nor are data showing where arrests are made and children are recovered.

“The reason why we won’t reveal all of our information, particularly the location of the task forces, is because we don’t want the dealers and the pimps to know where we are,” said Nicholas. “Too often we reveal information and then the crooks just adjust.”

It’s also very difficult to compare cities because there’s no consistent methodology for measuring, said Seattle’s Briner.

What’s indisputable, though, is that access to technology and increasing gang involvement are driving more young girls into “the life” in cities, such as Portland and Seattle that attract young people

Anyone can go on the internet and learn how to “turn a girl out,” the term for inducing a girl to turn tricks, Briner said. Teenage males are also victimized.

“You can now do everything you need to do to turn out and run a girl on an iPhone,” she said. “You don’t even need a computer.”

That, plus the economic downturn, which traditionally drives vice industries, plus the glamorization of the lifestyle, has caused more and younger people to enter prostitution, she said.

In recognition of that, both Seattle and Portland have stepped up their efforts to identify and wrestle with this problem in recent years.

In 2008, for example, Seattle recovered 20 juveniles involved in prostitution, said Lt. Eric Sano of the Seattle Police Dept. Last year, it recovered 80, double the number the year before.

An often-quoted 2008 study by Debra Boyer for the City of Seattle, estimated there were between 300 and 500 juvenile prostitutes working in King County. However, with internet trafficking of girls and boys, Sano said he felt the numbers were higher today. “I think it’s more like 500 to 800 kids today.”

That growth is also one reason Seattle recently opened a residential treatment program to help teen victims recover. The program, operated by YouthCare, is one of only about half a dozen such programs in the country, said Briner, who is consulting on developing a similar program in Portland.

The treatment can take anywhere from a few months to up to two years. With only nine slots, plus an additional two emergency beds at a local shelter, it can’t begin to address the needs Seattle police see on the street, Sano said: “That’s nowhere near enough.”

Sex trafficking of underage prostitutes has been the focus of a flurry of meetings here and in Portland in recent weeks. Legislators in both Oregon and Washington have various bills in the works aimed at this problem.

Several ideas are being proposed in Oregon, ranging from giving police power to arrest people who solicit sex from children without having to prove they knew they were underage to locking minor prostitutes in detention for three days without hearings.

In Olympia, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle is planning to file legislation, too, although the details are not settled yet.

One proposal that has been circulating is to make an exception to Washington’s two-party consent laws that would give law enforcement the ability to access a teen prostitute’s cell phone information with only the victim’s consent. Currently, the consent of the alleged pimp is also required, which makes it a moot investigative tool. Washington is one of only a handful of states that require the consent of both parties.

While many advocates welcome the attention to a problem that has been in the shadows, too long, they also urged caution.

“We often see poor policies put in place, not only in reaction to sensational trends like this, but also when budgets are tight,” said Mark McKechnie, executive director of the Juvenile Rights Project, a legal project representing foster and delinquent children in Oregon.

McKechnie compares the current rush of political activity to a similar, harried response to methamphetamine in 2005, an effort that met with mixed results.

“It seems there was a rush to do something and then later you realize the problem was overblown and some of the things put in place actually backfired,” he said. “A lot of times things that get put into place quickly are hard to undo.”

InvestigateWest is a nonprofit investigative journalism center based in Seattle. For information on how you can support independent investigative reporting for the common good, go to

Modern-day slaves’ story repeats daily in plain sight

The case of dozens of Filipino workers held captive spotlights a widespread human- trafficking problem.


For up to 16 hours daily, they worked at posh country clubs across South Florida, then returned to deceptively quiet houses in Boca Raton where they were captives — and in the most dreadful cases, fed rotten chicken and vegetables, forced to drink muriatic acid and repeatedly denied medical help.

The 39 servers, lured to the United States by the cliché of a decent dollar and a promising next chapter, instead became imported modern-day slaves two continents away from their homeland. Their story repeats in plain sight most every day in South Florida: barely paid — or unpaid — people forced to toil in fields, work as domestics in hotels and restaurants or in the sex industry, an outsized regional problem authorities are emphasizing in January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

“This is organized crime where humans are used as products. We are talking about selling a person over and over and making large sums of money,” says Carmen Pino, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge. “What people need to realize is that human trafficking is happening here, it’s a big problem. It could be happening in the restaurant where you eat, at your nail salon, in your neighborhood. It’s not just something that happens in foreign countries.”

While difficult to pluck the numbers from a landscape of silence and fear, federal, state and local authorities know South Florida is among the nation’s three top capitals of human trafficking, a $36 billion industry defined as the recruitment and harboring of a person for labor or services through force, fraud or coercion.

South Florida’s mix of cosmopolitan lifestyles, rural landscapes and tourism makes it a natural entry point for human traffickers. To fight the rising statistics and heighten awareness, a coalition of law enforcement and government agencies formed the South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force in 2008, charged with monitoring a wide swath of the state, from Key West to Fort Pierce.

That year, ICE initiated 432 investigations resulting in 126 convictions on human trafficking charges. In 2009, the number of investigations jumped to 566 and 165 convictions.

The task force also partners with social-service agencies and churches for outreach and to help rescued victims find housing and build new, legitimate lives in America.

ICE gives temporary legal immigration status — called Continued Presence, typically for one year — to victims of trafficking. They can receive work permits and other benefits and eventually can apply for a visa. In 2009, ICE authorized 447 CP requests and extensions.

Two years ago, the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition was launched to raise awareness and also to help social organizations on the front lines to recognize the warning signs. “One of the largest hurdles we are facing is getting people to see it,” says President Adriane Reesey. “We’ve done training sessions with homeowner organizations, webinars and gone to the churches.”

In the latest case, Alfonso Baldonado Jr. and his wife, Sophia Manuel, owners of Quality Staffing Services, were behind an elaborate plot to bring Filipino nationals to South Florida, then pressure them into slave labor at local country clubs and hotels including Indian Creek Country Club, Miami Shores Country Club and nine others in Palm Beach County. Federal officials say the clubs were not aware of the illegal scheme.

Manuel was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison; Baldonado received a 51-month sentence. She also was sentenced for visa fraud and making false statements to the government to procure foreign labor certifications and visas.

“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,” ICE Director John Morton said just after sentencing.

It was a frantic call to a hotline about a “hostage” situation at a Boca Raton home — Filipino workers held against their will — that launched the probe. A familiar story of the tainted American Dream soon emerged.

In July 2006, Manuel held a recruiting meeting in the Philippines to a captive audience of workers who had responded to newspaper advertisements and word-of-mouth. She collected a $1,500 job security deposit from each of the 36 applicants. No jobs were delivered or refunds given for the deposits. The following year, the couple returned to a group that included some of the 2006 applicants, this time with the promise of jobs that would pay $1,400 monthly for up to three years. They each paid $4,000 in up-front fees.

Neither the promised jobs nor the salary ever materialized.

For nearly two years, the victims were squeezed into several Boca Raton homes. The couple, also of Filipino origin, ruled by the victims’ palpable fear of arrest or deportation if they tried to escape. Their passports were taken and they were isolated. They worked exhausting hours seven days a week. At home, some slept on the floor. They were given water and fed a “diet of rotten vegetables, chicken innards and feet,” according to the indictment.

“On the outside, the houses blended into a typical suburban subdivision,” Pino says. “Inside, it was crowded and absolutely disgusting, substandard squalid conditions.”

And when one worker complained that the drinking water was bad, the couple provided toxic acid instead.

The workers were often denied timely medical care. A worker who broke his wrist wasn’t allowed to see a doctor for 10 days. Another worker suffering from stomach pain and spitting up blood wasn’t allowed to see a doctor.

On Sundays, they were herded into a van and taken to a nearby church, but forbidden from speaking to other Filipinos.

The couple contracted with 11 South Florida country clubs and resorts, providing staff of servers mostly, for seasonal or supplemental work. Federal authorities say the businesses were not complicit.

The Miami Shores Country Club used Quality Staffing for less than a year beginning in November 2007 for a total of 239 hours. “We were absolutely not aware of the situation with these workers who we used for banquets,” said Alberto Pozzi, general manager of the Miami Shores Country Club. “The company came highly recommended from other clubs. The company [owners] told us they would be providing a qualified staff that had been trained on cruise ships.”

Indian Creek began contracting with Quality in the fall of 2007 to help with events during the winter season. “At one event, almost all of the temporary wait staff was a `no show.’ When we inquired why, we weren’t satisfied with the answer, and we terminated the relationship immediately,” General Manager Michael Yurick said in an e-mail response. “Subsequently, we learned from a federal investigation that the agency was treating its employees in an inappropriate and illegal manner. We worked closely with the Federal investigators, and helped them in their investigation. ”

With the help of a network of social agencies, those workers have settled in South Florida in new homes, with new jobs.

As a victim specialist for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking for two years, Martha Mino worked with some of the rescued Filipino victims, along with others from Mexico and Honduras.

“They were very still traumatized, very scared and mistrusting,” says Mino, now working at the Mexican Consulate.

“They were too scared to ask for their most basic needs. They were still learning that they are human beings that deserve to be treated properly. For them, they are starting over
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