NEW YORK, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S.
authorities have charged 21 people in connection with a
multi-million dollar prostitution racket in which hundreds of
Thai women were forced into sexual slavery in major U.S. cities.
The traffickers lured young women from poor backgrounds in
Bangkok by painting a "rosy picture" of life in the United
States, according to court records.
Once in America, the women were held captive in apartments
and hotels where they were forced to work as prostitutes to pay
off debts of up to $60,000, U.S. authorities said.
Some were told to undergo breast implant surgery, and the
surgery cost was added to their debt, according to prosecutors.
The charges against 10 Thai and 11 U.S. nationals were filed
in a Saint Paul, Minnesota, federal court on Thursday. Most of
the defendants were arrested a day earlier in U.S. cities from
Los Angeles to Chicago.
Some 38 people have been indicted in Minnesota since last
year in connection with the global trafficking ring which is
believed to have operated since 2009 and made tens of millions
The alleged Thai boss was arrested in Belgium last August.
Three others charged last year have since pleaded guilty,
the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Minnesota said.
"This is a highly complex case that required years of hard
work," Gregory Brooker, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of
Minnesota, said in a statement.
The women were advertised online including on website
Backpage.com, which has been hit by lawsuits in recent years
over allegations it promotes trafficking in its advertisements.
They were not allowed to leave the properties where they
were held unless escorted by a member of the ring.
The captors used violence and threats against the women and
also threatened to hurt their families in Thailand if they
refused to have sex, authorities said.
The victims, who numbered in the hundreds and spoke little
English, were held in at least a dozen U.S. cities including
Atlanta, Washington, Seattle and Dallas.
Investigators hunted down the traffickers by tracking the
money they pocketed and laundered, authorities said.
"Special agents used their accounting expertise to analyze
the complex financial transactions made by these criminals,"
said Shea Jones, a special agent in charge of Internal Revenue
"All financial transactions leave a trail," he said in a
The charges include conspiracy, sex trafficking and money
Anti-slavery group Polaris says it has received reports of
more than 22,000 sex-trafficking cases in the United States over
the last decade.
Globally, nearly 21 million people are victims of human
trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization.
An estimated 4.5 million of them are forced into sex work.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Emma Batha. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)