Some say suspect in alleged sex trafficking case is a victim, too

BALTIMORE – BALTIMORE -The letters come, one after the other, from the Otero County Detention Center in New Mexico to a bungalow-style home in Dundalk that is encircled by a chain-link fence and festooned in a ribbon of Ravens purple.

The letters are from Shelby Nichole Smith, who was an altar girl at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and a top graduate of the old Southern High School before enlisting in the Army. Now she’s known by her childhood nickname, BeBe, and authorities refer to her in official documents as “the gossip girl.”

She has been writing relatives while awaiting trial on federal charges that she was the enforcer for a violent sex ring run by her boyfriend. Police say the ring lured women with the promise of a singing career and instead forced them to work as prostitutes and strippers across the country, but Smith remains defiant and has refused to cooperate with prosecutors.

“They put me in solitary confinement now,” Smith, 25, wrote in her latest letter home to Youngstown Avenue. “I guess they think that if they make me miserable I’ll start lying for them. … They locked us up already. Why do they gotta torture us?”

Her mother describes Smith as a “victim just like the other girls,” trapped, threatened and forbidden to leave or even call home while with the group. Her lawyer says there are no victims or suspects, or any coercion – that all of the women participated in the activities willingly.

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Financiers and Sex Trafficking

THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com.

This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are.

That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake.

Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management.

“We had no influence over operations,” Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me.

Let’s back up for a moment. There’s no doubt that many escort ads on Backpage are placed by consenting adults. But it’s equally clear that Backpage plays a major role in the trafficking of minors or women who are coerced. In one recent case in New York City, prosecutors say that a 15-year-old girl was drugged, tied up, raped and sold to johns through Backpage and other sites.

Backpage has 70 percent of the market for prostitution ads, according to AIM Group, a trade organization.

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Schools called hotbeds for luring young sex slaves

It’s the most chilling of hunting grounds.

Sex traffickers who coerce kids into prostitution are using the city’s schoolyards and playgrounds as recruiting offices.

It’s such a troubling problem that Brooklyn prosecutors have started training educators on how to spot kids in peril on their turf.

“It happens enough that I can say it happens a bunch,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Hersh told the Daily News. “Many girls are forced to go to middle school playgrounds and recruit other young girls.”

Hersh, who runs a pioneering sex-trafficking unit for the DA’s office, has held several workshops and hopes to expand into as many schools as possible.

Last fall, pimp Abking Wilcox admitted turning girls as young as 15 into being sex slaves and making them recruit others in Bushwick and Brownsville middle schools.

Wilcox, who pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Criminal Court to three counts of sex trafficking, called it his “team.”

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4 arrested under new Mass. human trafficking law

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on Friday announced the first arrests under a new state law designed to crack down on human trafficking.

Coakley said the four arrests include a husband and wife and two other men. She said the four ran a business enterprise that transported women to the Boston area and profited from their sexual services.

She said some of the women were being sold repeatedly as part of “a sophisticated human trafficking organization.”

“In this instance, these women were sold time and time again, sometimes up to 15 times a day,” Coakley said.

Those arrested include Rafael Henriquez, 39, and his wife, Ramona Carpio Hernandez, 50, both of East Boston. Diego Suarez, 34, and Milton Lopez-Martinez, 26, were also arrested.

 Coakley said Suarez and Lopez-Martinez were responsible for the daily operations of the organization, including supervising two primary locations in East Boston and Chelsea and transporting women to house calls from “johns.”All four face one count of trafficking in persons for sexual servitude.

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Human Trafficking Bill Advances

LINCOLN, Neb. — A measure that seeks to clamp down on human trafficking in Nebraska has won first-round legislative approval.

Lawmakers voted 36-0 Wednesday to advance the measure by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill.

The bill would increase penalties for anyone convicted of pandering another person, require training for police officers and prosecutors who may encounter human trafficking victims, and create a task force to further study the problem. It also would require strip clubs and rest stops to post signs with the toll-free number of a human trafficking help center.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford says the proposal seeks to address a problem that has gone largely unnoticed in Nebraska.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says the bill is a start, but lawmakers will need to do more in the future.

 

On Thursday, Petition Protesting Backpage.com Will Be Sent to Village Voice Media

More than 99,000 people have signed the petition calling on Village Voice Media to shut down the adult ads section of its subsidiary, Backpage.com, in order to end the advertising of sex with children on the site.

On Thursday, these tens of thousands of signatures will be delivered to Village Voice Media headquarters in New York by faith leaders, Change.org users and “Alissa” (whose story of forced prostitution when she was 16 was told by Nick Kristof in last Sunday’s New York Times).  Along with the signatures, they will bring 100 pairs of girl’s shoes, symbolizing all of the unseen victims of child sex trafficking in the United States.


Twin Cities sex trafficking defendants face trial

Several mugshots from arrests of an alleged multi-state prostitution ring.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jury selection began Tuesday in Nashville in the case of an alleged sex-trafficking ring with strong ties to the Twin Cities.

Fifteen defendants are facing federal trial. Back in November 2010, federal prosecutors in Tennessee indicted 29 people on charges of running a child-prostitution ring.

Most of the defendants are from Minnesota. Authorities say the trafficking operation was controlled by three Twin Cities gangs: the Somali Outlaws, the Somalia Mafia, and the Lady Outlaws. A 30th defendant was added to the case last year.

So far, not a single defendant has pleaded guilty.

The sheer scope of the case is unusual and the trial could last two to three months. The remaining 15 defendants will be tried later.

The government says the gangs recruited Twin Cities girls to have sex in exchange for cash, marijuana and booze, and that the victims were as young as 12. But at least one defense attorney is challenging the age of one victim, saying her birth certificate was forged and that there is no true record of her birth.

Fort Worth man gets 30 years in prostitution case

A 36-year-old Fort Worth man was sentenced Monday to 30 years in federal prison followed by 30 years of supervised release for sex-trafficking and prostitution-related felonies, according to a Justice Department news release.

Marcus Choice Williams pleaded guilty in March 2011 to one count of conspiracy to transport individuals for prostitution; six counts of transporting individuals for prostitution; one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; two counts of attempted sex trafficking by force; and one count of money laundering.

Co-defendants Kenya Thomas, 32, of Plano, and Preston Petitt, 45, of Houston, were sentenced to 37 months in prison and two years supervised, according to the news release.

According to prosecutors, Williams operated an interstate prostitution ring, including adult escort web sites, headquartered in the Metroplex and operating in the Boston and Washington, D.C., metro areas.

Williams recruited vulnerable women, specifically single mothers from troubled backgrounds, the release stated.

Largest trafficking bust rescues 41 women

A joint operation by police in Macau and Liaoning and Guangdong provinces has busted a ring of 30 suspects involved in abducting women and forcing them into prostitution, said a statement released by China’s Ministry of Public Security on Friday.

The swoop, which took place on March 11, also saw 41 women rescued from danger, according to the statement quoted by state news agency Xinhua.

More than 20 women being exploited for prostitution were released from captivity in Macau alone and seven suspects were arrested for allegedly inciting prostitution, the Chinese-language TDM channel reported. This is the largest human trafficking case registered in the territory since a law aimed at tackling this phenomenon came into effect on June 2008. That bill now covers forced labour and organ trafficking, as well as increases the maximum jail term for human trafficking to 20 years.

Police in the city of Donggang in Liaoning province received a tip-off on March 5 that more than 20 women had been abducted and taken to the MSAR to engage in prostitution. Under the command of the ministry, police in Donggang and Zhuhai immediately set up a special task force to investigate. Guns, bullets and knives were confiscated from the suspects.

A police chief said the ring was “tightly organized” with a clear distribution of work and a complete network. Suspects lured women and young girls in Dandong prefecture and took them to Macau after promising sightseeing and high-salary jobs. Once they arrived in the city, however, these women were forced into prostitution, the police chief said.

The investigation of the case is continuing.

Last January local association Good Shepherd Sisters warned that “Macau is believed to be a destination for the trafficking of women and girls from the Chinese mainland, Mongolia, Russia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and Central Asia, for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation”.

And last October the University of Macau released a report on human trafficking commissioned by the Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee, which confirmed that most of the victims were women from small towns in mainland China who were tricked or coerced into sexual exploitation.

In the latest edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, released in June 2011, the US Department of State said Macau “continues to lack sufficient judicial resources to investigate and prosecute a significant number of trafficking cases”.

SeaTac man sentenced to 15 years for sex trafficking

A SeaTac man was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 15 years in prison and 15 years of supervised release for sex trafficking through force, fraud and coercion.

Ronnie Leon Tramble, 29, will also have to pay restitution to five women he forced to work as prostitutes, according to a media release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The amount of restitution will be determined at a later hearing.

Tramble first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2010 when Kent Police officers encountered a juvenile female working as a prostitute. The girl told police how Tramble beat and coerced her, and how he advertised her as a prostitute on Backpage.com.

“So many of these victims were juveniles and vulnerable,” U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said at the sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan promised to keep going after criminals similar to Tramble.

“Sex trafficking is a horrific crime, that often preys upon our most vulnerable citizens: young children and teens,” Durkan said. “We will continue to target people like Ronnie Tramble who victimize our youth. Our community is safer with this defendant off the streets.”

According to court records, Tramble coerced or forced more than five different women to work for him as prostitutes. Some of these victims were under the age of 18. The plea agreement details how Tramble recruited one victim, and forced her to work as a prostitute with threats and violence.

Tramble repeatedly beat the victim, and forced her to give her prostitution earnings to him. Tramble was charged federally in August 2011.

After Kent Police initiated the case, further investigation by law enforcement revealed that for more than five years, Tramble forced numerous women to work for him as prostitutes. He has a prior Washington State conviction for promoting prostitution.

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