2 human trafficking victims rescued, L.A. man arrested in Chino raid

CHINO >> Two victims of human trafficking were rescued and a Los Angeles man was arrested after authorities say they discovered a trafficking den at a medical warehouse in Chino on Wednesday.

Luis Flores Lopez, 39, was arrested on suspicion of felony pimping and pandering. He is being held at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $100,000 bail, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials said.

The San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force learned several advertisements on Backpage.com — an online classified site that has been connected to instances of human trafficking — listed a commercial medical building in the 12500 block of 10th Street in Chino as a connection site, according to a news release.

“Investigators observed a high volume of males going to and from the business,” the statement said. “After further investigation, it was established that investigators believed victims were being trafficked for the purpose of sex inside the location.”

After obtaining a search warrant, detectives rescued two victims and detained two men authorities say were at the warehouse to pay for sex. They were later released pending further investigation, officials said.

Lopez was also found inside and arrested, sheriff’s authorities said.

Investigators say websites like Backpage.com allow traffickers to list women offering sexual services. According to FAIR Girls, an organization that offers safe housing and services to survivors of human trafficking, 90 percent of the young women and girls they serve — some as young as 14 — were listed on Backpage.

The company has said it believes the company is on firm legal ground and works hard to report abuses of the website.

The Chino investigation is ongoing.

Detectives believe there are other victims and ask anyone with information to contact the San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force at 909-387-8400. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may contact WeTip at 888-78-CRIME or www.wetip.com.

4 arrests in Metro Detroit drug, human trafficking ring

Four people were arrested in connection with an alleged opioid drug and human trafficking operation based in Metro Detroit, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Tuesday.

The group — identified as Melvin Niblett, Corey Cooper, Maurice Rushton and Jasmin McGinnis — was identified through a probe that launched in September, when the joint FBI and Oakland County Gang and Violent Crimes task force received a tip about a suspected drug and prostitution ring in Madison Heights.

Niblett and Cooper were caught selling drugs in Warren and charged in a separate but related case by the Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, the Attorney General’s Office said.

They both later were released on bond. But in October, police learned Niblett was reportedly using rooms at a Southfield hotel to lead a drug and human trafficking operation with dozens of others, authorities allege.

“Drug and human trafficking continue to plague the safety of many communities in Michigan,” FBI Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios said in a statement. “Today’s arrests reflect the continuing impact federal, state and local law enforcement are having on the ability of criminals to victimize and enslave others through their addiction to a variety of dangerous and sometimes lethal drugs.”

All four arrested have been charged with 24 felonies, including conducting a criminal enterprise, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $100,000, Schuette’s office said Tuesday.

An Aug. 21 preliminary examination is scheduled for Cooper, 45, Niblett, 38, of Southfield, and McGinnis, a 27-year-old from Canton Township. Rushton, 57, who was apprehended in Ohio, awaits extradition.

“The individuals involved in this human and drug trafficking ring will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Tuesday. “The victims deserve justice and I am proud of our task force members who partnered with the attorney general and other agencies to send a clear message that these types of crimes will not be tolerated in our community.”


Human trafficking and slavery affecting ‘every large town and city in UK’

National Crime Agency warns true scale of modern slavery is ‘far more prevalent’ than previously estimated, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.

The enormous scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK has been revealed in a major official report, with hundreds cases affecting “every large town and city in the country”.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the scale of the issue is far more prevalent than previously estimated, and warned that the threat is continuing to expand.

There are currently more than 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery in the UK, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe, the report reveals.

Operational activity focusing on labour and sexual exploitation co-ordinated by the NCA through May and June led to 111 arrests in the UK and some 130 people being encountered who may be considered as victims.

Linkedactivity also took place on mainland Europe resulting in around 40 further arrests and the launch of 25 further investigations.

Will Kerr, director of vulnerabilities at the NCA, said: “The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.

“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought. This should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.”

Responding to the report, Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, said the fight against modern slavery must go beyond arrests, and extend into more convictions as well as improved intelligence gathering and better support for victims.

“Arrests have been made by police, victims rescued and convictions secured. But the real work starts now. We need to see more convictions and criminals behind bars,” Mr Hyland said.

“We need to see information gathered and mined for intelligence that leads to organised networks dismantled. And we need these victims to be supported and cared for so that they are no longer vulnerable to traffickers and slave masters.

“It is my hope that the campaign launched today by the NCA leads to an increased awareness among the British public, so that we can pride ourselves on being a nation that will not tolerate the evil of modern slavery.”

The report comes a day after Mr Hyland accused the NCA came of not taking the crime seriously enough and allowing important information about modern slavery offences to “sit dormant” on databases.

Speaking to the Evening Standard on Thursday, Mr Hyland said measures to protect other potential victims had not been taken, in a failure he likened to allowing a rapist to “run around London” without police taking action.

The number of people being referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s official framework for identifying victims of human trafficking – has been steadily rising in recent years. Almost 1,400 victims, including cases of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, were identified last year.


Photo: Rex

Tallahassee woman, 23, wanted by FBI for human trafficking

The FBI is looking for a Tallahassee woman who it says is involved in facilitating the sex trafficking of minors.

According to the FBI, 23-year-old Rachel Lynn Robillard’s last known address is in Tallahassee, but she is known to travel up the East Coast on Interstate 95. A warrant for her arrest was issued in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 29 for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor, sex trafficking of a minor, and using interstate travel to promote prostitution.

Robillard is described as 5’7” to 5’9” with blonde hair and has a tattoo on her neck.

The FBI urges anyone with information about Robillard’s whereabouts to contact the agency’s Washington D.C. field office at 202-278-2000.


Senate Panel Unanimously Approves 2 Preventative Human Trafficking Bills

Two bills aimed at combating human trafficking in semi-trucks are headed to the Senate floor.

A Senate panel unanimously approved the ‘No Human Trafficking On Our Roads Act’ and ‘Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act’ on Wednesday.

One bill would disqualify individuals from operating a commercial motor vehicle if they have a felony involving human trafficking.

The other would create an advisory committee on the issue, and designate a human trafficking prevention coordinator at the Department of Transportation.

Officials praised the legislation as an important step in the efforts to curb human trafficking in the U.S.


Photo: Reuters

Former U.S. diplomat liable in slavery, sex trafficking case

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A former U.S. diplomat who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen was found liable for the second time Monday for enslaving and sexually trafficking a woman who worked as a housekeeper.

The Washington Post reported a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, agreed that Linda Howard and late husband Russell Howard forced an Ethiopian maid into sexual slavery in 2008. Linda Howard, who left the State Department in 2013, was ordered to pay $3 million in damages to the woman, who lives in Virginia. Howard’s husband died in 2012.

Linda Howard denied the allegations and argued the woman couldn’t sue for civil damages under a human trafficking law that didn’t pass until 2008. According to a court document, the woman began working for the Howards in 2007. She alleged she was raped twice daily by Russell Howard and that Linda Howard also joined in the sexual abuse.

Five years ago the couple was found liable in the same court for trafficking another Ethiopian housekeeper in 2008. They were ordered to pay her $3.3 million. However, the couple had already fled from Arlington, Virginia, to Australia. They contested the judgment there, settling in 2015.


Photo: CBS News


Driver in Texas human trafficking operation had his license suspended

The driver of a tractor-trailer used in a botched human trafficking operation that left 10 immigrants dead in San Antonio had his commercial driver’s license suspended three months before his arrest, the state of Florida said Tuesday.

James Matthew Bradley Jr. of Clearwater, Fla., failed to hand in his medical card, which the federal law requires commercial drivers show that they’re fit for the road, and had his driving privileges revoked on April 12, a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokeswoman told The Associated Press.

State records show the 60-year-old’s medical card had expired on March 15 and he failed to renew it. The spokeswoman said it would have been illegal for Bradley to have another license from another state.

Bradley, who worked for Pyle Transportation, is charged with one count of transporting illegal immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Authorities found roughly 39 people in or out of the tractor-trailer outside a Walmart in San Antonio, Tex., Sunday. The victims, who were mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, suffered from heatstroke and dehydration, authorities said.

Eight men were found dead in the truck and two more died at a hospital, authorities said. Bradley told investigators he saw bodies “lying on the floor like meat.”


Blistering hot truck full of immigrants found at Texas Walmart; 9 dead

SAN ANTONIO — An apparent smuggling operation involving undocumented immigrants came to a tragic conclusion early Sunday morning when emergency responders found dozens of people in distress inside a hot semi-trailer in a Walmart parking lot.

Eight people were dead at the scene, according to the San Antonio Fire Department. Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told The Associated Press on Sunday afternoon that another person died later in an area hospital.

In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas and the Department of Homeland Security said all of the deceased were adult males.

Seventeen more victims were transported to University Hospital and San Antonio Military Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. Another 13 with non-life-threatening injuries were taken to area hospitals.

The driver of the semi, identified as James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Fla., was arrested, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Bradley was in federal custody and that a criminal complaint would be filed Monday morning in a San Antonio federal court.

“We’re looking at a human-trafficking crime,” McManus said Sunday, adding that many of those inside the 18-wheeler appeared to be in their 20s and 30s and that there were also apparently two school-age children.

McManus said the people in the trailer would be reviewed by ICE agents to determine their immigration status. Homan said some of the survivors told authorities they were from Mexico.

Authorities said an employee at the Walmart encountered a person who was disoriented and asking for water at the store, which is located on San Antonio’s southwest side. The person said that there were people inside the trailer outside who needed help.

When police arrived on the scene around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, they detained the driver immediately and searched the trailer to find several people in various stages of medical distress. At least 29 fire units and two AirLIFE choppers responded to the scene to take care of the victims.

Police said there was a total of 38 victims in and around the trailer, which did not have a working air conditioning system. Based on initial interviews with survivors, Homan said Sunday there may have been more than 100 people in the truck. The rest are believed to have fled or been picked up.





Scores Found Guilty in Thailand in Human-Trafficking Case

BANGKOK — A court in Thailand on Wednesday convicted scores of defendants accused of organizing a human-trafficking ring that enslaved hundreds of people, dozens of whom were found buried in a mass gravenear a secret jungle camp in which they had been imprisoned, tortured and held for ransom.

The 102 defendants, including a Thai general, police officers, and smugglers from BangladeshMyanmar and Thailand, were arrested in 2015 after 36 bodies were found in shallow graves near the border with Malaysia. The discovery led to efforts to dismantle a multimillion-dollar smuggling enterprise, and the traffickers soon abandoned their human chattel in jungle camps or in crowded vessels adrift in the Andaman Sea.

Investigators said the victims were from Bangladesh or Myanmar — many of them Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority — and had paid smugglers to help them find work in Thailand. Instead, they became slaves in Thailand’s lucrative fishing fleet, the authorities said.

Judges at the Criminal Court in Bangkok held a lengthy session on Wednesday to announce the verdicts, and many relatives of the defendants were crying as the verdicts were read aloud. In doing so, the judges quoted the testimony of witnesses who had described harrowing transnational journeys of deprivation.

Victims said they had been smuggled from Bangladesh and Myanmar in cramped boats with little food and water. After arriving in Thailand, they were packed into trucks and marched to camps high in the forested mountains of Songkla Province. There, they were imprisoned and made to call their families and beg for ransoms of around $3,000. Some said they had been raped.

When discovering the jungle camp in 2015, the Thai police described finding bamboo cages, watchtowers and a “torture room.”

Under pressure from the United States and Europe to crack down on human trafficking, the junta that came to power in a coup in 2014 made a display of prosecuting members of the ring, including a high-ranking officer in the Thai Army, Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpan.

General Kongpan was convicted on Wednesday of trafficking and of committing an organized transnational crime.

The chief of the junta, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, responded to the news by saying the military should not be blamed for the actions of one officer.

“There are many people in this human-trafficking network,” he told reporters. “Don’t group all soldiers in the country as one.”

Witnesses, prosecutors and investigators were hounded throughout the trial. In 2015, the police officer who had first overseen the investigation and who had issued more than 150 warrants fled to Australia after numerous threats to his life.

Ultimately, 103 people pleaded not guilty to a bevy of charges that included human trafficking. One defendant died while in custody.

The court said it had found some defendants not guilty because of “unclear or insufficient evidence.”

“This may be the end of an important and unprecedented trial, but it’s been a rocky road, and it’s not ‘case closed’ for survivors of human trafficking here,” Amy A. Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia human rights watchdog, said in a statement.

“Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured and killed by human traffickers during the last several years,” she said.

How Congress should fight child sex trafficking on the Internet

FOR YEARS, classifieds website Backpage.com has denied reports that it was involved in facilitating child sex trafficking and exploitation. It insisted that it was a passive host of third-party content and had no control over its sex-related ads — many of which featured children. Reporting from The Post’s Tom Jackman and Jonathan O’Connell raises new questions about these claims.

According to documents provided to The Post from an unrelated legal dispute, a contractor for Backpage in the Philippines has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads for the website. Emails from a Backpage.com address directed the contractor to find ads from rival websites and explicitly mentioned ads for “adult services,” suggesting that at least someone at Backpage was aware of the contractor’s activities. This revelation builds on the results of a recent Senate investigation, which found that Backpage was editing ads to remove language that explicitly referred to underage girls, rather than deleting the ads altogether. The website also advised users on how to conceal illicit activity from its screening process.

Experts have long alleged that ads published in Backpage play a major role in facilitating human trafficking, including of children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 73 percent of the 10,000 child trafficking reports it receives annually involve Backpage in some way. The website faces pending litigation in California, Washington state and Florida, among other states.

Backpage touted its “extensive efforts to prevent, screen and block improper ads” in a 2015 court filing in the District. But instead of fully cooperating with authorities, it has repeatedly resisted official investigations into its practices. It refused to comply with a Senate subpoena to hand over documents last year and was unanimously held in contempt of Congress — the first time such an action was taken in over two decades. When it was finally compelled to shut down its adult ad section in January, it claimed that it had been “unconstitutionally censored.” Backpage has also filed lawsuits over state and federal laws that tackle online sex trafficking.

In response to the latest revelations, three senators have recommended the Justice Department conduct a criminal review. Legislators also are debating whether to amend the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which gives third-party hosts such as Backpage wide-ranging immunity for content posted by its users. This immunity has been vital to the development of free speech on the Internet, but can also provide a loophole for companies that tacitly facilitate human trafficking. It is for Congress to see if it can amend the act without infringing on First Amendment rights, or if passing some other preventive measure is more viable.

What is clear is that something must be done. At the Senate hearing on Backpage in January, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) remarked, “Children were sold, and they simply tried to sanitize it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of evil.” Given the contents of these new documents, we understand how she feels.


Photo: AMP