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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)

Ex-probation officer sentenced for child porn

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(Photo: Ventura County Sheriff’s Office)

A former Ventura County probation officer was sentenced Friday to a year in jail and five years of probation involving child pornography charges.

James Richard Schmitt, 54, pleaded guilty in December to two felony charges of possession of child pornography and was sentenced in Ventura County Superior Court.

Schmitt, who was working as a senior deputy probation officer, was arrested after a joint investigation by the FBI and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation found that the Oxnard man had been using an online service that provided content involving sexually exploited children.

According to the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, Yahoo in 2014 found certain account holders based in the Philippines were using its service to traffic child pornography. Yahoo tracked the seller accounts to buyer accounts all around the world, prosecutors said. (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)

3 ARRESTED IN SEX PREDATOR STING OPERATION IN VENTURA AFTER DETECTIVES POSE AS TEENS IN ONLINE CHAT ROOMS

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From left: Jose Juan Ramualdo-Posadas, Christopher Allen Bouchard and Reynal Reginio Guillen are seen in booking photos after being arrested in a sexual predator sting operation. (Ventura Police Department)

Three alleged sexual predators have been arrested in Ventura after detectives posed as teenage girls in internet chat rooms, authorities announced Tuesday.

Christopher Allen Bouchard, 48, of La Crescenta, Reynal Reginio Guillen, 54, of Sherman Oaks, and Jose Juan Ramualdo-Posadas, 32, of Corona, were taken into custody without incident Friday after engaging in online conversations with investigators and arriving at an agreed-upon location, police said.

The multi-agency sting was conducted by personnel from the Ventura Police Department, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and Human Traffic Enforcement Team, according to a news release.

Detectives, posing as 14- and 15-year-old girls, entered various chat rooms “primarily designed for teens,” the statement said.

“As the investigation unfolded, adult male sexual predators got onto the same chat room and contacted the undercover officer,” the news release said. “Each of the suspects engaged (the officer) in sexually explicit conversation, describing in detail what sex acts they wanted to perform with the teenage girl.”

According to authorities, each suspect agreed to meet and pick up the girl at or near what they believed was the teen’s home in the 2100 block of Victoria Avenue. (Read full 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)

Two charged with pimping a minor in Ventura

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

Asia Jones, 18, of Riverside County (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

Two people were charged with felony offenses Friday related to their alleged involvement in the human sex trafficking of a minor in Ventura, officials said.

Asia Jones, 18, of Riverside County, and Arkansas native Percy Stanley, 27, were charged with felony causing a minor to engage in a commercial sex act and pimping a minor, according to Ventura County Superior Court records.

The pair was arrested by Ventura police on Wednesday after a witness reported at about 2:15 p.m. that the minor and a man were having sex in a neighbor’s side yard, police said. Stanley was also arrested on a felony warrant for human trafficking of a minor in a San Bernardino County case, police said.

The victim was identified as a 16-year-old girl missing out of Riverside County, police said. Ventura police Sgt. Jerry Foreman said he did not know how long the girl had been missing. (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)