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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: Human trafficking

Alleged sex slave traders released

Four people arrested in what investigators believe is Spokane County’s first human trafficking case were released this weekend because no charges have been filed.

Spokane County sheriff’s investigators still are working on the case against Lawrence Dean Johnson, 43, his wife, Dina K. Tellez, 43; Christopher G. Foster, 33; and Foster’s girlfriend, Shanell L. Haddon, 28.

The suspects were released from the Spokane County Jail because prosecutors did not file charges within three days of their arrest as required by law. They can still be charged, and investigators still are working on charging recommendations for prosecutors.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

May 24: Sex slave claim leads to 4 arrests

Sex slave claims lead to four arrests

A frightened young woman’s descriptions of being held captive and sold for sex at drug houses and motels over the past year has led to several arrests in what’s believed to be Spokane County’s first human trafficking case.

Lawrence Dean Johnson, 43, his wife, Dina K. Tellez, 43; Christopher G. Foster, 33; and Shanell L. Haddon, 28, who is Foster’s girlfriend, are in the Spokane County Jail as prosecutors consider formal charges against them.

Dave Skogen, a detective with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday that more victims could be identified.

Foster denied the allegations in an interview with The Spokesman-Review from jail Thursday evening.

“They should get a psychiatric evaluation done on this chick,” Foster said. “Then the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office will realize what a big mistake they’ve made.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Wash. farms named in trafficking suit

Kay Buck, left, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery Trafficking, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 20, 2011, to announce the filing of a human trafficking lawsuit that stretches across California , Hawaii, and Washington. Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC in the Los Angeles District, center, and Chanchanit Martorell, executive director for the Thai Community Development Center, listens in.

By AMY TAXIN, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal agency has filed lawsuits claiming Thai workers were physically abused and forced to live in rat-infested housing after being recruited by a California-based labor contractor to work on farms in Hawaii and Washington.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it was the largest human trafficking case to date pursued by the agency in the agriculture industry.

The two lawsuits filed Tuesday involved 200 workers in Washington state and Hawaii against Beverly Hills-based Global Horizons Inc. along with six farms in Hawaii and two in Eastern Washington.

“Global subjected the claimants to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food and kitchen facilities, inadequate pay, significant gaps in work, visa and certification violations, suspension, deportation, and/or physical violence,” the legal action states.

Global Horizons lured Thai workers to the U.S. between 2003 and 2007 with promises of steady jobs and agricultural visas, then confiscated their passports and threatened to deport them if they complained about conditions, commission officials said.

The workers lived in dilapidated, rat-infested rooms — where many didn't have beds — and were often threatened and physically abused in the fields, officials said. They also were isolated from non-Thai workers, who were believed to work under different conditions.

“Once they arrived here in the United States, the story of discrimination began,” Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC in Los Angeles, said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the legal action.

Global Horizons could not be immediately reached for comment because the phone numbers listed on its website were not working.

The EEOC is seeking back pay and up to $300,000 in damages for each of the workers. Attorneys said they could not estimate how much was owed in wages and expected the number of workers in the case would increase.

Global Horizons recruited Thai workers under the federal government's agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A. The company subjected workers to intolerable conditions, while the farms turned a blind eye or failed to know about the practices of the contractor, the lawsuits state.

Chanchanit Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center, said her organization received its first report of abuse from a worker who escaped from a farm in Hawaii in 2003.

More workers came forward with similar claims about different farms that contracted with Global Horizons in different states, she said.

Workers said they had undertaken exorbitant debts in Thailand, with many using their family's land as collateral to guarantee recruitment fees they had to pay in the U.S.

Many workers were not given the jobs or wages they were promised and were forced to endure threats and abuse, Martorell said.

On one Hawaiian farm, workers were so hungry they ate the leaves of plants behind an abandoned schoolhouse where they slept, she said. Workers also were housed in a freight container, where wooden shelves were used as beds, she said.

Martorell said her organization helped workers file claims with the EEOC and secure a special visa intended for trafficking victims. About 1,100 Thai workers were brought into the country by Global Horizons, she said.

Attorney Clare Hanusz, who represents nearly 100 Thai laborers who claim discrimination, said the workers had to wait until now for action after making complaints about conditions that occurred years ago.

“It seems like now the EEOC is playing catch-up,” Hanusz said. “The way they're going about it, I don't really understand. But I'm glad they're doing something.”

Six Global Horizons recruiters and two Thai labor recruiters were previously indicted in federal court in Hawaii on charges of luring 600 workers from Thailand with promises of lucrative jobs before confiscating their passports and failing to honor their labor contracts.

The indictment said workers paid between $9,000 and $26,500 in recruitment fees and worked in a number of states, including Mississippi and Utah.

Supervisors threatened to send the workers back to Thailand when they complained about a lack of work and poor living conditions, knowing many would be afraid to return because of the substantial debts incurred to finance the trip, court papers said.

Defendants cited in the latest EEOC lawsuits include Captain Cook Coffee Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Co., Kelena Farms Inc., Mac Farms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Co., all in Hawaii, along with Valley Fruit Orchards of Wapato, Wash., and Green Acre Farms of Harrah, Wash.

Messages left at three of the Hawaii farms seeking comment were not immediately returned. Del Monte said it would have a statement later in the day. Captain Cook Coffee Co. said it had not yet reviewed the suit. It was not immediately possible to reach Kelena Farms. John Verbrugge of Valley Fruit and Jim Morford of Green Acre Farms did not immediately return telephone messages.

Also on Wednesday, the EEOC announced it had filed a lawsuit in Mississippi against marine services company Signal International alleging 500 Indian welders and pipe-fitters faced discrimination and substandard living conditions in Mississippi and Texas. Signal officials declined to comment on pending litigation.

The suits came amid a push at the EEOC to focus on human trafficking cases.


Associated Press writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report from Honolulu. Shannon Dininny contributed to this report from Yakima, Wash.

Child prostitution concerns at Super Bowl

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — As thousands of football fans descend on Texas for Sunday's Super Bowl, law enforcement agencies are keeping watch for a different kind of out-of-town visitor: pimps selling children for sex.

Cities that host the big game often attract a bustling sex trade. This year, Texas authorities and advocacy groups are stepping up their anti-prostitution efforts, especially where young girls are concerned.

“Most people don't know that our children are being brutalized this way, and we have to stop it,” said Deena Graves, founder of Traffick911, a Texas organization that launched the “I'm Not Buying It” campaign for Super Bowl XLV. “We need to get mad. We need to get angry about what's happening to our kids right here.”

For weeks, volunteers have been canvassing neighborhoods in Dallas and other cities, distributing door hangars and posters with information. Others have placed coasters in restaurants and bars. Traffick911 has also made public-service announcements, some featuring current and former NFL players.

“As a man and as a father of two beautiful girls, I'm not buying it — and neither should you,” Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff says in one television ad. “If you're one of these men buying these young girls, I'm telling you that real men don't buy children. They don't buy sex.”

Pimps hawking young girls see the thousands of men who travel to the Super Bowl each year as a gold mine of potential clients. Police in and around host cities have tried for years to crack down on prostitution by conducting stings or increasing patrols during Super Bowl week. Only in recent years have underage girls come to light in increasing numbers.

“This is a very large issue. We want people to know what human trafficking looks like,” said Thomas Lawrence, an assistant Dallas police chief. Last year's Super Bowl in Miami drew as many as 10,000 prostitutes, including children and human trafficking victims, police said.

Read the rest of the story by Associated Press writer Angela K. Brown by clicking the link below.

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