Polk County detectives arrest 103 suspects in prostitution, trafficking bust

By Josh Cascio

The Polk County sheriff’s latest prostitution sting netted 103 arrests.  Sheriff Grady Judd made the announcement during an afternoon press conference Monday.

True to form, he had a prepared line for several of the suspects.

“This dude was excited to get there he was still wearing his hospital scrubs when we arrived,” he said of one of the men, an alleged john.

The six-day operation focused heavily on online and social media ads. Of the 103 arrests made, 54 were alleged prostitutes, 29 were alleged johns, 13 were alleged pimps and seven face drugs and other charges.

Among the most serious arrests is 27-year-old Anthony Camacho, accused of human trafficking.

“He brought a 17-year-old child to the operation to prostitute her,” Sheriff Judd said.

That 17-year-old is said to be a runaway from Virginia.  If convicted, Camacho, who has a violent past that includes attempted murder, will face up to 30 years in prison.

“Our victim of human trafficking referred to him as King…we threw a bunch of aces at King now he’s in the county jail,” Judd said.

Other notable arrests include Edwin Lopez of Kissimmee, who allegedly wanted to have sex with a 14-year-old girl, and William Welch, whom the sheriff says also planned on having sex with an underage teen girl.  Welch remains at large; there is a warrant out for his arrest.

 

Children Recruiting Other Kids for Human Trafficking at Schools

ORLANDO, Fla. – Human trafficking is real and it is happening in Central Florida.

Crystal Blanton, co-chair of the Marion County Human Trafficking Task Force, said she receives thousands of reports from the National Human Trafficking Hotline every year.

“Usually the reports are in the thousands, every year,” Blanton said. “Thousands of people are being human trafficked. Right here in Marion County and across the state of Florida.”

Blanton said it’s not like the movies (“Taken” 2008), where young girls are taken during their summer vacations by foreign human traffickers to be sold to sultans or sheiks.

But local children, often as young as 12, are being recruited into a life of forced prostitution.

“I just think it’s the internet, I hate to say it,” Blanton said. “Social media has grown the field of human trafficking. It’s easier for these traffickers to make contact with victims.”

Blanton said traffickers look for vulnerable teenagers online — runaways, teenagers complaining about their lives and their parents, young people with drug addictions — and befriend them.

But human trafficking isn’t confined to any race or class, according to Blanton.

Some victims were on the honor roll headed to college.

“We’ve had doctors’ children who have been intertwined,” Blanton said.

Blanton also said human traffickers align with students and use them and their schools as recruiting grounds.

“There are recruiters, juvenile recruiters in the schools, working with a pimp of some kind, and they are sent out in the schools and given a job to bring other minors on board,” Blanton said.

Blanton said the task force has had success educating Marion County elementary, middle and high school principals in looking for signs of human trafficking and placing Human Trafficking Hotlineposters in schools.

Mike Lanfersiek, a sergeant at the Human Trafficking Squad at Orlando’s Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI), said the definition of human trafficking is forcing a person to have sex or to work through force, fraud or coercion.

“Human trafficking is quite simply the exploitation of another person for commercial sex or forced labor,” Lanfersiek said.

Lanfersiek said once victims, female or male, enter into the life of human trafficking, they are kept there by their captor, taking advantage of their vulnerability.

“A vulnerability to substance abuse, the fear of physical beating, or withholding passports or documents, things like that,” Lanfersiek.

Lanfersiek’s Human Trafficking Squad has rescued hundreds of young women and children, often from hotels in the tourist district of Orange and Osceola Counties.

“Anywhere where the trafficker thinks there might be demand for commercial sex,” Lanfersiek said.

Traffickers often set up their prostitution operation at hotels because they cater to visitors in town for business or pleasure who are looking for sex, according to Lanfersiek.

Lanfersiek said he just rescued a 15-year-old girl from a hotel on International Drive.

“She had met someone on the ‘Plenty of Fish’ website and felt this person was her boyfriend, exploiting her vulnerabilities, pimping her out,” Lanfersiek said.

In July, MBI agents arrested three men for luring a teenage girl through a social media app to an International Drive hotel and then prostituting her and having sex with her.

In 2016, Orlando police charged two men with the death of a 14-year-old girl who they’d been allegedly prostituting, driving her to men’s homes to have sex.

Lanfersiek said MBI regularly sets up undercover sting operations to catch traffickers and rescue victims.

MBI analysts spend their days online, searching through postings by human traffickers looking for victims and offering them for prostitution.

Lanfersiek offered this warning: If you’re coming to Central Florida looking for a date for sex, you may get a date with an undercover officer.

https://www.clickorlando.com/news/police-children-recruiting-other-children-for-human-trafficking-at-schools

Safe House for Child Victims of Human Trafficking to Open in Pensacola

A safe house for child victims of human trafficking will be opening in Pensacola this spring. It’s for girls between the ages of 12 and 17.

The safe house will be called The Secret Place. It will be on 10 acres in an undisclosed location. Organizers say they will partner with medical professionals to meet the girls’ physical and emotional needs.

Founder Kristin Lipscomb said, “These are our own kids, these kids being trafficked in Circuit 1. They are in our backyards, they are being trafficked by their own families and are being exploited and groomed.”

She hopes The Secret Place will allow these victims to start to heal.

“When traffickers grab hold of these children, they do everything you would think a human being would not do. They exploit them, rape them, damage them, control them,” Lipscomb said.

The Secret Place will provide the victims with counseling, dental care, OB-GYN services, and much more. Each girl will have her own room and bathroom.

The definition of human trafficking is broad. It’s not always a situation where a child is taken and sold in another country.

The Department of Homeland Security defines it as a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers control victims to engage in sex acts or labor services against their will. The Secret Place will be licensed by the state and work with the Department of Children and Families.

Program Director Alicia Tappan said they will be breaking a cycle for many of these girls. She said many victims don’t realize they are being trafficked.

“They don’t see it, they think it’s a job or a boyfriend and they really care about them, but in reality, they are exploiting and using them for their own gain,” she said.

She said through individual and group therapy, along with consistency, the program will allow the girls to heal.

“Having a home filled with safety, love, and protection and helping people move forward allows them to see life in a different light,” said Tappan.

It will cost about $400 a day per child to provide the services they need. They are asking for community support.

This weekend, they are holding a 5K race to raise funds and awareness. There is also a volunteer meeting on November 6. For details on how to get involved, click here.

https://weartv.com/news/local/safe-house-for-child-victims-of-human-trafficking-to-open-in-pensacola

Teen Reunites With postal Worker Who Saved Her From Sex Trafficking

Source: CNN

Postal worker Ivan Crisostomo helped 16-year-old Crystal Allen escape after being abducted and held captive for three months. They finally reunited.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/08/08/human-trafficking-survivor-reunites-with-postal-worker-orig-rf.cnn

Backpage.com, CEO plead guilty in California, Texas and Arizona

The chief executive of Backpage.com, a website investigators have described as an “online brothel,” pleaded guilty Thursday to California money-laundering charges, while the company itself pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

In addition to those pleas, federal prosecutors in Arizona announced Thursday Backpage.com and CEO Carl Ferrer had pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on April 5.

Under the California plea agreement, Ferrer will cooperate in prosecuting Backpage.com’s creators and will serve no more than five years in state prison. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering in California.

In the Arizona plea, Ferrer acknowledged knowing that a great majority of Backpage.com’s ads were for sex services. He also admitted to conspiring with others at the company to launder the proceeds from such ads after credit card companies and banks refused to do business with the site.

Ferrer also agreed to make the company’s data available to law enforcement as investigations and prosecutions continue. The guilty pleas are the latest in a cascade of developments in the last week against the company founded by the former owners of the Village Voice in New York City, Michael Lacey, 69, and James Larkin, 68.

The company founders were among company officials indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona, while Ferrer, 57, was noticeably absent from the indictment. The U.S. Justice Department also seized and shut down the website used to prominently advertise escorts and massages, among other services and some goods for sale. Authorities allege the site was often used to traffic underage victims, while company officials said they tried to scrub the website of such ads.

Attorneys for the company and the three men did not respond to multiple telephone and email messages from The Associated Press.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal. “The shutdown of Backpage.com is a tremendous victory for the survivors and their families. And the conviction of CEO Ferrer is a game-changer in combating human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide.”

Larkin remains jailed in Arizona while he awaits a hearing Monday on whether he should be released after pleading not guilty to federal charges alleging he helped publish ads for sexual services. Magistrate Judge Bridget Bade said Thursday that attorneys have agreed on the terms of release, but other details must be ironed out.

Four employees and the site’s founders pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

Lacey and Larkin also earlier pleaded not guilty to the California charges after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown last year allowed the state to continue with money laundering charges. Prosecutors allege Backpage’s operators illegally funneled nearly $45 million through multiple companies and created websites to get around banks that refused to process their transactions.

But Brown threw out pimping conspiracy and other state charges against Backpage’s operators. Brown ruled that the charges are barred by a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites posting content from others.

President Donald Trump this week signed a law making it easier to prosecute website operators in the future.

Paxon called Thursday’s pleas “a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world.”

Texas state agents raided the Dallas headquarters of Backpage and arrested Ferrer on a California warrant after he arrived at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport on a flight from Amsterdam on Oct. 6, 2016. The Dutch-owned company is incorporated in Delaware, but its principal place of business is in Dallas.

House bill targets money laundering by human traffickers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government would take modest steps toward hindering money laundering by human traffickers under legislation approved Tuesday by the House as lawmakers found a widely popular cause to tackle in a mostly discordant election year.

The bipartisan bill would require an existing presidential task force to recommend how Congress can better thwart money laundering by traffickers. Another federal council would suggest improvements in how U.S. agencies train investigators to pursue such cases.

The State Department would also have to factor money laundering into its annual rating of how well countries combat human trafficking.

The House approved the bill, 408-2. It now goes to the Senate.

Estimates of human trafficking victims vary, but recent reports put the number at tens of millions of people globally. It generally includes coerced sexual exploitation, prostitution, military service, labor and even organ donation.

The House also approved a separate bill imposing harsher penalties on predators convicted of stalking children, including people who pursue them online. The bill would add five years to maximum federal prison terms for convicted stalkers of minors under age 18. Victims’ advocates say 7.5 million people are stalked annually in the U.S., with federal figures showing that about 1 in 4 of them report online stalking.

The bill was approved 409-2 and now goes to the Senate. The strong bipartisan support for both bills is crucial for legislation to move through Congress in the months approaching the November midterm elections. Partisan divisions are likely to block approval of major measures on infrastructure, immigration, health care and other high-profile issues.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign related legislation this week making it easier for prosecutors and sex trafficking victims to take legal action against websites that list ads for prostitutes. Children’s advocates say such advertising is one way minors are sexually exploited.

The measure sharpens current law by opening the door to criminal and civil action against sites that assist advertisers of sexual trafficking. That broadens current laws, which until now have made it a crime to participate directly in a sex trafficking enterprise.

Last week, federal authorities took down Backpage.com, a classified ad website whose listings include sexual services. Site founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five others face federal charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.

Gang busted on charges of bank fraud, ATM money laundering

A two-year-long cyberfraud investigation in Europe has culminated with the arrest of 20 suspects in a series of coordinated raids, according to a Europol press release.

As of March 28, nine suspects remained in custody in Romania and 11 were jailed in Italy on charges of bank fraud that netted 1 million euros ($1.23 million) from hundreds of customers of two major banking institutions.

Europol said that the organized crime group, comprised mostly of Italian nationals, used spear phishing emails impersonating tax authorities in order to harvest the online banking credentials of their victims.

The criminals allegedly used the stolen online banking credentials to transfer money from the victims’ accounts into accounts under their control, and then withdrew the money from ATMs in Romania.

In addition to bank fraud and money laundering, the gang is accused of drug and human trafficking, Europol said.

Participating authorities included the Romanian National Police, the Italian National Police, Europol and its Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce, and Eurojust, according to the release.

 

Former attorney sentenced to 7 years in prison for money laundering

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A former attorney was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison for conspiring to launder more than $2 million dollars derived from a business email compromise scheme and for attempting to launder funds he believed to be proceeds from alien smuggling and firearms trafficking. This case was investigated by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C.

According to court documents, from at least March 2013 to February 2017, Raymond Juiwen Ho, 48, of Vienna, engaged in a large-scale money laundering scheme that resulted in millions of dollars being moved through bank accounts (some of which were attorney trust accounts) that Ho or his co-conspirators controlled. Specifically, between July and November 2014, Ho participated in a conspiracy in which co-conspirators sent emails from compromised or imitation accounts that duped victims into transferring money to accounts controlled by Ho and others. Ho then laundered these stolen funds, moving them through and to accounts located in the United States and abroad. Ho, who recruited others to aid his laundering activities, laundered more than $2 million in unlawfully obtained funds.

Ho engaged in his money laundering business despite multiple instances of banks closing his accounts due to fraud and inquiries by law enforcement. Eventually, in November 2015, HSI initiated an operation in which undercover HSI special agents sought Ho’s assistance in moving the proceeds of human smuggling and firearms trafficking between bank accounts located in the United States and overseas. Ho engaged in four such transactions between December 2015 and June 2016, involving more than $175,000 he believed to be the proceeds of illegal smuggling and trafficking activity.

Throughout the criminal conduct described above, Ho was a practicing attorney for an intellectual property law firm based in Washington, D.C. As part of this case, he has surrendered his bar licenses from Georgia and the District of Columbia.

https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/former-attorney-sentenced-7-years-prison-money-laundering

Sex, Money Laundering and Blockchain: 11 States Look at FinTech

BY ELIZABETH ZIMA 

When Nebraska State legislator Carol Blood started thinking about cryptocurrencies and blockchain, she focused on sex trafficking and money laundering. During two significant events held in Omaha — the NCAA College World Series and the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting — law enforcement reported that sex trafficking had increased in the state.

“These are high-profile events that draw a lot of people,” she said.

When she became a legislator, she wrote a law that would punish wrongdoing when using virtual currencies.

Even before the bitcoin value run-up in the fall, states were slowly recognizing that virtual currencies and the cybersecurity potential of blockchain technologies could enhance economic development for states looking to grow. They also recognized that the swift growth of cryptocurrencies might also drive criminality within their states. In January, 11 states introduced bills that would regulate or encourage the growth of financial tech (fintech).

One of those legislators was Sen. Blood, who found herself concerned that crime could grow in her state, but she was also excited about the possibilities for fintech to attract companies and jobs.

You might think Nebraska is a rural state where sex trafficking would be anathema, but you would be wrong. Every month, at least 900 individuals are trafficked, often multiple times — this according to the Nebraska Human Trafficking Initiative.

As a member of the Bellevue City Council and a board member of the Bellevue Public Safety Foundation, Blood says she heard horror stories about the sex trade. “Several people were caught in a sting utilizing bitcoin for sex trafficking,” she said. “With this law, we could hold them accountable.”

The proposed law would give peace officers enough ammunition to charge and fine those who disguise the nature, location, source or ownership of cryptocurrencies. The same holds true for money laundering. The bill also provides for fines for those who try to avoid transaction reporting as required under state law.

But despite her desire to reinforce laws on the books against illegal gains by crooks, Blood would like to encourage the fintech industry to take advantage of Nebraska’s laws. “I wanted to take care of the dark side of bitcoin,” she said. “We also wanted to create a welcoming atmosphere for” those engaged in legitimate business with cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies.

She has authored two other laws that would prohibit taxation of cryptocurrencies and define  distributed ledgers used for smart contracts. She believes that blockchain technologies will revolutionize financial transactions and government record storage. Over-regulation of these businesses is something she wants to avoid. “Nebraska wants these businesses to know that we are open for business.”

In 10 other states, legislators have introduced bills that would define the use of blockchain and its applications in the fintech space. These include:

Arizona: Republicans Sen. Warren Petersen and Rep. Jeff Weninger introduced SB 1091 to allow Arizonans to pay their taxes with cryptocurrency and directs the Arizona Department of Revenue to convert cryptocurrency payments to U.S. dollars at the prevailing rate within 24 hours. Another bill introduced by the duo would push the Arizona Department of Revenue to tax capital gains made by cryptocurrency traders.

In previous actions, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2417 into law in 2017. This bill clarifies the use of smart contracts using blockchain.

Colorado: Introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, SB 18-086 proposes utilizing a distributed ledger to keep state data secure. The bill empowers the chief information security officer in the Colorado State Office of Information Technology to look at the benefits and costs of adopting and applying blockchain in all state agencies to secure state records. According to the bill, attempted data breaches to Colorado government records in 2017 reached between 6 million and 8 million per day.

Florida: Buried in a bill on the implementation of digital drivers’ licenses, Florida Republican Rep. James Grant has included clarifying language about blockchain and its uses for smart contracts and electronic signatures.

Hawaii: The Hawaiian Senate introduced two bills governing cryptocurrencies in January that would require virtual currency transmission to be licensed and to include a definition of virtual currency in the state’s Money Transmitters Act.

Illinois:  On Jan. 31, the Illinois Blockchain Task Force released its first report on blockchain technology and its uses for safely storing government documents. The committee concluded that blockchain would enable the state to advance its digital transformation and enhance economic development. The task force was formed in November 2016.

New York: New York Assemblyman Clyde Vanel introduced four bills to secure voting records and government record storage; create a digital currency taskforce to analyze the impact of cryptocurrencies on New York financial markets and amend the state’s technology law to include a definition of blockchain technology; smart contracts and provide a legal understanding for digital signatures stored on a blockchain.

Tennessee: Rep. Jason Powell introduced HB 1507 a measure that would permit the use of distributed ledger smart contracts.

Vermont: Sen. Alison Clarkson introduced a bill that would allow distributed ledger startups to create limited liability companies; allow companies to create personal identity trust companies; allow for the taxation of cryptocurrencies; and explore the creation of an e-residency program.

Virginia: Introduced by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, SB 864 directs the State Corporation Commission to study cryptocurrencies and how they are currently used in Virginia to determine whether the Virginia General Assembly should establish laws to protected citizens from fraud when making transactions using virtual currencies. The commission will issue its report by Dec. 1, 2018.

Wyoming: Legislators led the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition, a grass-roots group seeking to turn the state into a haven for cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, and have introduced several bills that should see a vote this month. All three bills would create a platform for fintech by allowing LLCs (limited liability companies) to register ownership on blockchain and exempt cryptocurrency token purveyors from security regulation.

Could money laundering reforms help end human trafficking?

As Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker considers how to use his remaining time in office to address human trafficking, there is a simple, bipartisan step he can take.

Go after the money.

There is a lot of money involved in modern-day slavery. Billions and billions of dollars. So where is all that money?

According to the state department, there are as many as 27 million people being trafficked today, and it’s more profitable than any other illegal enterprise except drugs. In one of the deepest stains on the global conscience, millions of the victims are children, trafficked for sex.

One of the main issues law enforcement faces with shutting down human trafficking operations is the confusion of victims for criminals. Someone thinks they are being hired for a job, only to find they are to work without pay in another country, while their traffickers hold their passports.

If such a victim encounters law enforcement, the victim could be mistaken for someone working illegally. Thanks to the tireless work of advocates across the country — where Tennessee is a leader — many police departments and emergency room personnel have been trained to recognize trafficking victims and help them escape. While awareness is growing, this is still a problem.

This dynamic also makes it that much harder to hold those profiting from human exploitation accountable. Victim testimony as a basis for prosecution is complicated, and painful for the victims.

This brings us back to the question at hand: Where is the money?

It’s not a mystery why people exploit others in forced labor or sex work. They do it to make money.

Better financial enforcement also helps take the pressure off victims. If we were able to bring money-laundering charges against traffickers, we wouldn’t need to rely on victim testimony to put traffickers behind bars.

There are bipartisan bills before Congress right now that would make it easier to catch traffickers for money laundering by ending anonymous companies, companies formed without any way of knowing who owns or benefits from their activities. Because it’s impossible to tell — even for law enforcement — who is behind these shadow companies, they are a favorite tool for setting up front businesses or moving dirty money.

Anonymous companies are used in all manner of crimes, from drug trafficking, to tax dodging, consumer fraud and even terrorist financing. But their application to human trafficking is multi-layered.

In 2016, anti-slavery advocates at Polaris analyzed public information to identify human trafficking occurring in businesses fronting as massage parlors in eight cities across the country. The inability to identify beneficial ownership was a recurring challenge in every location. In Fairfax County, Va., alone, Polaris identified 108 illicit massage businesses that were connected to 181 different corporations.

These anonymous shell businesses allow criminals to post ads, for clearly illegal services, with no way to connect the business listed with its true owners. Global Witness, in their “Great Rip Off” report, found that a Moldovan gang used anonymous companies from Kansas, Missouri and Ohio to trick victims from overseas in a $6 million dollar human trafficking scheme. Anonymous shell companies are ideal for tricking people in this way.

January is human trafficking awareness month, and we’re hoping this can be an opportunity for all of Congress to get behind bills introduced by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Peter King in the House, and Sens. Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio in the Senate to give law enforcement access to who really owns a company.

So where is the money that modern slavers are making? That’s a question that we can’t answer without action from Congress.

Maybe the real question is: Will Congress help us go after the money?