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Bill would add hotels, motels to human trafficking fight

A new Senate bill looks to address human trafficking where the crimes often occur: hotels and motels.

Senate Bill 225, introduced earlier this month by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, would add hotels and motels to the list of businesses that are required to post signs with hotline numbers people can call or text if they suspect human trafficking or need assistance.

Human trafficking involves not only forced prostitution but also forced labor.

Such signs are already required at certain locations, including massage parlors, urgent care facilities, truck stops, bus and rail stations, and adult and sexually-oriented businesses.

Stern said including hotels and motels on that list would “plug a loophole” that’s existed for too long.

“We’ve seen the effectiveness of the hotline as a tool to shine the light on this pox in our society,” Stern said. “What we found is hotels and motels tend to be a major target for perpetrating these crimes of human trafficking. There are all kinds of activities that go on and people don’t say anything, so what we want to do is arm the employees and customers with information so if they see something, they know who to call.”

The hotline numbers are available 24 hours, seven days a week and are accessible in over 160 languages. Callers can leave messages anonymously. If the bill is passed, hotels and motels that do not comply will be fined $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Stern’s bill taps into the larger problem of tracking illegal activities at private businesses. According to a 2012 study released by the California Department of Justice, human trafficking “can be facilitated by businesses that promote the crime or accept bribes to remain silent.”

According to the study, from Jan. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2012, the California Department of Justice made 441 arrests and 113 convictions for human trafficking in Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara counties.

Those numbers do not include alternative penal code sections prosecutors use to charge suspects connected to human trafficking. Prosecutors also use pimping and pandering laws, which require proof of fewer legal elements than human trafficking, making the likelihood of conviction greater, according to the study.

In Ventura County, the District Attorney’s Office filed 12 pimping cases from 2012 to 2016. The office filed two cases of human trafficking last year and one in 2015.

In some of those cases, arrests were made after months of investigating human trafficking suspects operating out of hotels and motels. (Read full article here)

Man gets five years for human trafficking

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(Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

A Fresno man was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for human trafficking, officials said.

Demarea Williams, 23, pleaded guilty Jan. 4 in Ventura County Superior Court to a felony charge of human trafficking, authorities said. ​

Williams was arrested by Ventura police on Dec. 20 after they received reports of a woman possibly being held against her will and forced to engage in prostitution, authorities said.

Police found the 21-year-old woman at La Quinta Inn in the 5800 block of Valentine Road, authorities said. Williams and a woman were arrested at the scene, authorities reported.

Investigators alleged the 21-year-old victim had been trafficked in California, Texas and Arizona. (Read article here)

‘Mastermind’ of prostitution ring pleads guilty

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The “mastermind” of a multimillion-dollar prostitution ring who trafficked dozens of female Chinese nationals and used the online classified-ad portal Backpage.com pleaded guilty Thursday.

Hsin Chieh “Jerry” Wang, 40, of Los Angeles, appeared before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce Young for an early disposition conference when he decided to plead guilty to 11 felony counts, including conspiracy to commit a crime of human trafficking, pimping and money laundering.

Wang, who was initially facing 28 criminal counts, will be sentenced to 13 years when he appears in court Feb. 16, Senior Deputy District Attorney Melissa Suttner said. The remaining counts will be dropped at the sentencing.

Wang and four others were arrested Aug. 4 after a six-month investigation into an operation that forced 28 Chinese women into a prostitution ring at various motels throughout the state, including the Comfort Inn in Camarillo.

According to court records, the prostitution ring was discovered after local sheriff’s detectives found an advertisement in the Ventura County section of Backpage.com. The advertisement included photos of an Asian female “in sexually provocative clothing and poses” offering services in Camarillo, authorities said. Detectives said the address was that of the Quality Inn & Suites. (Read full article here)

Woman sentenced in prostitution ring case

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A Covina woman charged in connection with a human trafficking ring that operated in Ventura County and other areas throughout California was sentenced Tuesday.

Yiwen Wang, 43, appeared before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce Young. Wang had pleaded guilty Dec. 6 to three counts of felony money laundering and one count of tax evasion.

Authorities arrested Wang, her brother Hsin Chieh “Jerry” Wang, 40, and three others on Aug. 4 after a six-month investigation into an operation that allegedly forced 28 Chinese women into a prostitution ring at various motels throughout the state that included the Comfort Inn in Camarillo.

Yiwen Wang was facing a maximum sentence of nine years in county jail for various charges but was instead sentenced to three years and four months because of her plea, Senior Deputy District Attorney Melissa Suttner said.

The defendant also was ordered to pay the California Franchise Tax Board $95,833 for filing a false tax return, Suttner said. (Read full article here)

BACKPAGE.COM SHUTS DOWN ADULT SECTION AMID SEX-TRAFFICKING ACCUSATIONS

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Monday, January 09, 2017 10:38PM

Backpage.com, the classified website that has faced accusations of fostering sex trafficking, has shut down its adult content section, the company announced Monday.

The company has faced criminal charges, lawsuits and a U.S. Senate investigation into allegations that its advertising fosters prostitution and the sexual exploitation of children.

Backpage blamed “unconstitutional government censorship” for forcing it to remove the adult content and said it would continue to fight for its First Amendment Rights.

“As the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship, Backpage.com has removed its Adult content section from the highly popular classified website, effective immediately,” the company said in a written statement.

“For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed, but new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States.”

Anyone who clicks on the adult sections on the site is now met with the word “CENSORED” in red letters and a request for support to protect internet free speech. (Read full article here)

Suspect accused of pimping in Ventura

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A Los Angeles man was arrested Thursday in Ventura on suspicion of prostitution-related offenses, including pimping and pandering, police said.

Ventura police said they arrested Byron Haskins, 27, after they received a tip around noon about possible prostitution activities at La Quinta Inn in the 5800 block of Valentine Road.

Police said when they arrived, they saw a man wanted by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in connection with failing to appear in court after being charged with weapons-related crimes following an arrest in Santa Ana in October.

It’s at least the second call to the Ventura hotel on reports of prostitution. Ventura police made two arrests Dec. 20 after receiving a call of a possible female victim being held against her will.

Haskins was taken to Ventura County jail, where he was being held. (Read article here)

Human-trafficking suspect pleads guilty

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(Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

Ventura County prosecutors said Thursday that a Fresno man has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of human trafficking.

Demarea Williams, 23, faces a maximum of 12 years in prison, prosecutors said. He will be sentenced Feb. 2.

Police said they found her at a La Quinta Inn in Ventura, along with Williams and another woman, who was also arrested.

Williams was being held in Ventura County jail on Thursday without bail. (Read article here)

2 accused of holding woman against her will at Ventura hotel

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(Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

Monay Lewis (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

Two suspects were arrested at a Ventura hotel after a woman claimed she was forced into prostitution and held against her will.

Ventura police arrested Demarea Williams, 23, and Monay Lewis, 21, after officers responded to a call at about 1 a.m. Tuesday of a possible female victim being held against her will at La Quinta Inn in the 5800 block of Valentine Road, authorities said.

When authorities arrived at the hotel parking lot, they found a female matching the victim’s description inside a car. Williams was standing outside the vehicle, Sgt. Gerald Foreman said.

According to authorities, the 21-year-old woman was being forced to have sex with various men for money, and the proceeds allegedly went to Williams. Investigators allege the woman had been “trafficked up and down the coast” of California as well as in Arizona and Texas. (Read full article here)

Long Beach man sentenced to over 20 years for human trafficking

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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that Andrew Jordan, 37, was sentenced to 21 years, 4 months in prison in Los Angeles County Superior Court after being found guilty on felony charges, including human trafficking, pimping, pandering, domestic violence, and assault.

“Human trafficking is a heinous crime where perpetrators profit from the trading and selling of human beings. Today’s sentence sends a clear signal that this form of modern-day slavery will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Harris. “I want to thank the Long Beach Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Simi Valley Police Department, the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s Office and the lawyers and Special Agents of our own California Department of Justice for their continued efforts to work collaboratively to hold human traffickers accountable and secure justice for the survivors.”

The guilty verdict follows a joint investigation by the Long Beach Police Department’s Vice Investigations and Gang Enforcement Sections, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Custody Investigative Services, Operation Safe Jails, the Simi Valley Police Department, and the Los Angeles Human Exploitation and Trafficking Task Force, who helped identify human trafficking victims who were exploited by Jordan, leading to Jordan’s September 2015 arrest. Jordan has been in custody since his arrest. (Read full article here)

Five arrested after months-long investigation into human trafficking ring

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A human trafficking ring that forced at least 25 Chinese women into prostitution in motels across Southern California, where they earned millions of dollars for their alleged captors, was busted this month and five people were arrested, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

Authorities said they launched a six-month investigation into the network after deputies discovered a potential victim of human trafficking during a prostitution sting at the Comfort Inn in Camarillo. Authorities uncovered evidence at the motel of a larger group operating across the region, Undersheriff Gary Pentis said at a news conference in Thousand Oaks.

“Commercial sex is nothing short of modern-day slavery,” Pentis said, adding that such operations are pervasive. “This is a hideous crime that has an impact on all of us.”

The illicit operation was run much like a corporation, officials said, and the victims took in about $350,000 a month for the organizers.

The alleged ringleader, identified as Hsin Chieh “Jerry” Wang, worked as the network’s dispatcher and took calls from hundreds of men each month who answered sexually explicit ads on backpage.com, Pentis said.

Another suspect … (Read full article here)