Krishna Patel prosecutes the people who prey on children
The cases aren’t for the faint of heart.
Corey Davis, a New York City pimp, was convicted last year on various sex trafficking charges, including bringing a 12-year-old girl up to Bridgeport to work as a prostitute.
Edgardo Sensi was indicted in April for allegedly producing child pornography that involved an 8-year-old Connecticut girl. Daniel Ward was sentenced to five years for distributing child pornography on the Internet.
Douglas Perlitz was indicted in September for traveling to Haiti where he would allegedly sexually abuse young boys at a boarding school he established. And there’s Walter Aguilar, 25, who traveled from Connecticut in February with a 14-year-old girl to Maryland to allegedly engage in sexual activity.
These are just a smattering of the dozens upon dozens of cases that Krishna Patel has handled as an assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut who has made a name for herself by prosecuting sex crimes. The people she has pursued run the gamut from child pornographers to human traffickers to Internet predators.
“These are the one area of cases if [a prosecutor’s] not comfortable doing them they shouldn’t be doing them,” said Patel. “The subject matter can be extremely difficult.”
After six years in her current job, Patel heads a regional Smuggling and Trafficking of Persons Investigative Task Force and also leads Project Safe Childhood, which deals with child pornography and other Internet-related sex crimes.
In light of the Corey Davis case, Patel also lobbied to establish the Victim Restitution Fund, which allows proceeds from property seized from Davis to pay for his victims’ health care, counseling and an education. Davis had one piece of jewelry alone worth more than $100,000. A colleague described the recent establishment of the program as “unprecedented.”
The Law Tribune is not the only organization to recognize the scope of Patel’s accomplishments. Earlier this year, she was honored by the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut. She was also named 2008 woman of the year by India New England, a publication that serves the region’s Indian community.
But Patel prefers to talk about the women whose lives she is changing with her work. She proudly notes that, thanks to the restitution program, one former sex trafficking victim is headed off to college.
She explains that many of the girls who are recruited by sex traffickers come from broken homes and foster care. The sex trafficker then creates “a family myth,” she says.
These are “victims who otherwise haven’t had any sense of family or belonging,” Patel said. Even though the sex trafficker is “brutal” to them, “he’s the only person, in their mind, who has cared for them. And they are manipulated to believe this is care.”
‘The Best Job’
As a law student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Patel always envisioned herself doing civil rights work. She even spent her summers during law school working for the United Nations in Kenya, where she was born and raised before moving to New Jersey toward the end of elementary school.
But after finishing law school in 1993 she worked for the U.S. Attorney General’s Honors Program for a year and decided to stay in New York. From there she latched on with the law firm of Winston & Strawn. While there, she was assigned to work on a false advertising trial involving toothbrushes. “What surprised me was how much I enjoyed trial work,” she said.
So she spoke with a couple partners at the firm who previously worked as prosecutors and decided to apply for a job as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. She landed the job and remained there for more than three years before moving to the Connecticut office in 2003.
For Patel, it was finding exactly the right niche.
“You are in an office committed to [a specific geographic] area. You get to be part of a change, in effecting some type of policy, being a part of something much bigger and seeing a difference in the community,” said Patel. “I have probably the best job if you want to be a litigator.”
But change, said Patel, comes one case at a time. For instance, upon her arrival in Connecticut, she often heard that human trafficking doesn’t happen here. Prosecuting people like Corey Davis not only gets a criminal off the streets (he’s serving a 25-year sentence) but also raises awareness of the issue, said Patel.
“When you do the case, you show them trafficking happens in Connecticut,” said Patel. “And then you learn so much about what is happening, what motivates trafficking. You’re able to then inform yourself about the bigger picture and combat the bigger picture.”
A few years ago, when Kevin O’Connor was U.S. attorney in Connecticut, Patel formed STOP IT, a multi-agency endeavor to fight human trafficking. With the Internet playing such a large role in the sexual exploitation of minors, it was natural that Patel would also be charged with leading the Project Safe Childhood initiative.
Sadly, Patel said these Internet predator cases are like “shooting fish in a barrel.” She said it’s shocking to see how quickly a federal agent posing as a 12- or 13-year-old child online will attract adults intent on making sexual advances.
The most time-intensive cases are those where adults are enticed to visit foreign countries so they can have sexual encounters, often with minors. Patel listed Haiti, Nicaragua, Cambodia and Thailand as common destinations for sex tourism, which attracts wealthy Connecticut residents with illicit desires.
Patel recently visited Thailand to speak about the problem. She said even though foreign officials might not agree with the United States on many things, when it comes to the sexual abuse of minors, “there seems to be a dialogue that can be had regardless of the country in most circumstances.”
Patel is especially busy these days working on the Douglas Perlitz case. He founded a boarding school in Haiti and The Haiti Fund Inc. was incorporated as a charitable, religious and educational organization in Connecticut. Approximately $2 million was transferred from the Haiti Fund to run the school. Perlitz allegedly traveled to the Caribbean nation and abused schoolchildren for a decade.
Again, not a case for the faint of heart. But Patel isn’t complaining.
“When you think about the U.S. Attorney’s Office, it’s probably the only civil rights lawyers that get to put handcuffs on people,” said Patel. “When you [prosecute] somebody doing something really awful to somebody else, there’s a lot of satisfaction.” •