Deputies from 3 counties get GBI sex trafficking training

The GBI is training deputies from three counties in our area on how to combat sex trafficking. For the next couple of months, deputies from Richmond County, Greene County, and Taliaferro County will be taking the course.

Greene County deputy, Patrick Paquette, has taken the course before. He says, “This sex trafficking, it’s an epidemic, and it’s larger than what people know, it’s not highly publicized at this point.”

Paquette knows firsthand how important training for this sort of thing is. Two months after he attended his first GBI sex trafficking course, he rescued a victim during a traffic stop on I-20 in Taliaferro County.

“He had brought this child from the Atlanta area, brought her to Augusta exploited her all night in Augusta and was leaving Augusta when we came in contact with him,” he explains.

Training officers what to look for is important, Paquette says, because sex trafficking is a problem that’s being recognized more and more in Augusta.

“I stop cars all the time eastbound on I-20 with these children, with these prostitutes in them, headed to the Augusta area,” he said.

On Valentine’s Day, he was making traffic stops along I-20 in Greene County, and he was shocked with what he found.

“More than 50% of the cars I stopped that particular day had escorts in the vehicle heading to Augusta,” he says.

Cities along major interstates, like I-20, are prime targets for the human sex trade. Paquette works with the Interstate and Criminal Enforcement Unit, and she says, “Right here on Washington Rd., we have tons of motels where they can jump right off of I-20 and utilize those hotels, jump back on I-20 and move on, and that’s why I think it’s so large in the Augusta area.”

He says it’s not something the community needs to overlook. “They’re exploiting these young girls. It’s no different than selling drugs. They’re making a profit off of this stuff and it’s huge.”

Once the training is complete, 200 Richmond County deputies will have gone through the course.





Published in: on October 10, 2013 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

The long-ago death of Rilya Wilson demands justice


Against all odds, I kept the faith. I expected a smiling little girl with pig tails and chubby cheeks to say, “Hi, Ms. Wilson!” I was not ready, and certainly not willing to give up on finding Rilya Wilson.

As we begin Rilya’s murder trial on Monday we all have to deal with the cold reality that Rilya is gone. When Rilya went missing she was four years old, and if she were still alive today she would have been a 16-year-old teenager in the prime of her life.

As Rilya’s story started to unfold, I was serving in the Florida Legislature. As I learned about the details surrounding Rilya’s disappearance, specifically the utter disregard and lack of concern displayed by the Department of Children and Families, I was sickened.

I was sickened by the thought that DCF employees would falsify records indicating that Rilya was OK. I was sickened to learn that Rilya was one of thousands of children under the supervision of DCF whose whereabouts were unaccounted for and I was sickened to learn that Geralyn Graham, the roommate of the woman entrusted to care for Rilya allegedly had abused Rilya. Graham lied to DCF employees, but those employees would have known this had they performed their jobs diligently.

Rilya’s case exposed plenty of shortcomings at DCF, and I was proud to pass the Rilya Wilson Act in response to these failures. One of the most troubling aspects of Rilya’s case was the fact that Rilya had been withdrawn from school. If she were still in school there would have been eyes watching; and somebody would have known that she was missing. Instead of falling victim to DCF’s incompetence, and her caretaker’s negligence, Rilya could have been saved by procedures that we now have in place.

Under the Rilya Wilson Act, children in DCF custody must attend school. If a child in DCF care is reported as absent from school, the school is obligated by law to report an unexcused absence to the child’s caseworker. The caseworker is then obligated by law to visit the child and determine whether or not that child is within the custody of the foster parent. If that child is missing, the caseworker must notify law enforcement, and law enforcement will then proceed to take the necessary action to locate the child. We do not know exactly when Rilya went missing; but we do know that it took 18 months for the DCF to report it.

I think about Rilya every day. Her picture hangs in my office, and I continue to fight for Rilya in Congress. The federal adaptation of the Rilya Wilson Act, H.R. 3741, mandates that a state must have procedures to report missing children to law enforcement authorities for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This bipartisan bill has more than 100 co-sponsors and is supported by my fellow members of the South Florida Congressional delegation. These common sense solutions at the state and federal level can assist in the recovery of missing children, and keep our children safe from harm.

Let us not forget that Rilya and children like her are all of our children. When the state removes a child from the biological parents and places them in foster care, the state and all of its residents become the guardian of those children. So Rilya technically belongs to all of us.

I am thankful for all of the wonderful people who take in foster children as their own, but I worry about children like Rilya who are not as fortunate. We must fight for Rilya Wilson while the nation’s eyes are on us.

Florida always finds itself at the center of controversies involving children; I pray that a scenario similar to Caylee Anthony is not repeated. We must fight for Rilya because her murder trial, like Caylee’s murder trial, deserves the national spotlight. Nancy Grace and the national media should dedicate their time and resources to Rilya’s trial, and simply not ignore her because she is a child of color. This happens too often.

While the Rilya Wilson Act put in place a procedure to protect children, and although administrators within DCF were forced to resign as a result of their incompetence, justice is what we seek for Rilya. Justice demands that Rilya’s killer be held accountable, and justice demands that Rilya’s death not be in vain. I pray for justice, and I pray for Rilya who is gone but never forgotten.

U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson represents District 17 in Miami-Dade County.

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Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Kara Nichols Missing Update: Colorado Teenager Model Photo Found on Website, Victim of Human Sex Trafficking?

A 19-year-old Colorado teen model named Kara Nichols was reported missing less than two months. Recently, photos of the teenager was found on a Las Vegas escort service website. This may provide clues for the police investigation to find the young aspiring model.

The erotic photos that were discovered were taken down from the website and there has been no more confirmed reports about Nichols being in Las Vegas.

“We had not seen those photos. Those are not in her bedroom. I don’t know if they are a Photoshopped situation or not,” Michelle Bart said representing Nichols’ family. “Unfortunately, this has definitely shaken the family quite a bit, that somebody would be this vicious.”

Nichols’ family and friends have not heard from her since October 9, 2012, when she apparently left to attend to a modeling gig in Denver, Colorado.

The illegal sex industry is a subculture that has long exploited young aspiring models to be involved in “illicit drugs and prostitution.” CBS affiliate KLAS reported that Nichols may have fallen victim to human sex trafficking.

There were some sites related to the illegal business in the search history of the websites Nichols visited.

If anyone has information regarding the missing teenager, please contact El Paso County Sherirff’s Office at 719-390-5555 or Crime Stoppers at 719-634-STOP.

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cleveland man gets 20 years in sex trafficking case

A judge has sentenced a Cleveland man to 20 years in prison following his conviction on charges he forced a 15-year-old girl into a two-state prostitution scheme.

Defendant Ernest McClain had previously pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor, transportation of a minor to engage in prostitution and possession of child pornography.

Investigators said McClain and a co-defendant forced the 15-year-old runaway to prostitute herself 10 times a day over a month with 200 men.

Investigators said the pair also forced the girl from Ohio to Pennsylvania for the purpose of prostitution.

Cleveland federal judge Aaron Polster sentenced McClain to 20 years in prison Friday. McClain’s attorney declined to comment.

Co-defendant Chardee Barfield was previously sentenced to 70 months in prison.  Yes now how cool is that!


One Woman’s Tale Of Surviving Sex Trafficking

When we hear “victim,” we may think of victims of violent crime, domestic violence, child abuse, rape. Victims of sex trafficking and exploitation often suffer all those tragedies combined.

Sex trafficking is a subset of the larger problem of human trafficking, which President Obama spoke out against during the Clinton Global Health Initiative in September:

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

Asia Graves, a victim of underage sex exploitation who was trafficked from Boston up and down the east coast, chose to speak out as well.  In 2010, she testified against her pimps, landing six men in jail. She now works as a case manager for FAIR Girls, which works against the exploitation of women.

Since 2010, Massachusetts has made strides to deal with human trafficking. In 2011, the state passed its first human trafficking bill, which went into effect in in February. In August, the Polaris Project, which rates all states on their laws combating human trafficking, named the Bay State the “Most Improved in 2012.”

When it comes to sex trafficking and exploitation, Suffolk County has been leading the state in its efforts to provide services for victims since 2005. One organization, My Life My Choice, focuses on adolescent girls vulnerable to exploitation. The co-founder and director, Lisa Goldblatt-Grace, joins us today to talk about what’s being done across Eastern Massachusetts to address the growing problem of underage sex trafficking.

Despite public and private efforts, Graves says there’s still much more to be done, and she too joins Radio Boston to share her harrowing tale from victim to survivor.





Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 3:12 am  Comments (2)  
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In child sex-trafficking case, court says no knowledge of age needed

A federal appeals court held Friday that prosecutors did not need to prove a defendant in a child sex-trafficking case knew his victim was under 18, if the defendant had “reasonable opportunity” to observe the underage victim.

In a case of first impression for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court rejected a bid by Devon Robinson to overturn his child sex-trafficking conviction. Robinson claimed the government had not proven he was aware that the girl wa s underage at the time of the crime of which he was accused.

Robinson was convicted in 2010 of trafficking a 17-year-old girl. She testified at Robinson’s trial in Brooklyn federal court that he was her boyfriend, not her pimp, and said she told “everybody” at the time that she was 19, according to the ruling.

The jury convicted Robinson of two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On appeal, he said the government could not prove he knew the girl’s age and therefore had not proven he recklessly disregarded this information.

Robinson and the government offered competing interpretations of Section 1591 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

That section was amended in 2008 to enable prosecution to convict someone of child sex trafficking if he had acted in “knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact … that the person has not attained the age of 18 years and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act.”

Robinson argued that the government had to prove that he had ample opportunity to observe the girl, and that he had recklessly disregarded her underage status. Prosecutors countered that they only had to prove one or the other.

The 2nd Circuit agreed with the government.

“Viewed in context, the most natural reading of this provision is that proof that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim may substitute for proof that the defendant knew the victim’s underage status,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote in the opinion. He was joined by Judge Chester Straub.

In a brief concurring opinion, Judge Amalya Kearse said she would affirm Robinson’s conviction but was not persuaded by the majority’s interpretation of Section 1591.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment. Curtis Farber, an attorney who represented Robinson on appeal and has since been appointed as a judge in the Kings County Criminal Court, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The case is U.S. v. Robinson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, No. 11-301.

For the U.S.: Sylvia Shweder and David James of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York



Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 3:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Texas senator cracks down on human trafficking

The U.S. Senate passed the Child Protection Act of 2012 on Tuesday, legislation several years in the making that will help protect victims of child pornography, sexual abuse and trafficking by strengthening law enforcement’s ability to apprehend the culprits.

The act — which was introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and approved just prior to Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January — passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The bill now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

According to the U.S. Department of State, thousands of men, women and children are trafficked to the U.S. for sexual and labor exploitation. Many of these them are lured from their homes with false promises of a better life. Instead, they are entered into prostitution or other types of forced labor, according to the department.

“We need to provide law enforcement with every tool they need to crack down on the most vile criminals — child sex predators and traffickers — and protect the innocent young people who fall victim to these heinous crimes. This is an issue we can all agree on, and I’m pleased Congress has passed this important measure in a bipartisan fashion,” Cornyn said in a release. “I hope the President will sign this bill swiftly to bring greater justice and protection to victims and allow law enforcement to take immediate steps to stop child predators and traffickers in their tracks.”

Currently, the maximum prison term for the possession of child pornography depicting minors 18 years of age and younger is 10 years. The Child Protection Act would make the maximum prison term 20 years.

Current law gives courts the option to issue protective orders restraining harassment of minor victims and witnesses. After Obama signs the bill, however, the law will require judges to issue one if they find that a child witness is the target of harassment or intimidation.

By allowing courts to make this finding on their own motion, judges are encouraged to take an active role in protecting child witnesses in their courtroom, Cornyn said. The provision also fills a gap in current law by creating criminal penalties for intentional violation of these orders.

Other provisions originally outlined in the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act — legislation introduced by Cornyn and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last year — that are included in the bill entail the reauthorization of funds for Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, which train executive and judicial officials on how to deal with cases of child sexual abuse.

“Law enforcement and advocacy organizations across the country are hard at work to crack down on the scourge of human trafficking,” Cornyn said. “Unfortunately, this is a pervasive crime that continues to destroy the lives of victims. Sadly major cities in Texas, such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, are hubs for human trafficking due to a variety of factors, including major transportation thoroughfares, access to the border, and a high population of runaway youth who are more at risk to fall victim to trafficking.”

The term “human trafficking” and details of its underworld have been defined as a serious domestic problem in recent years. Current penalties for certain child exploitation offenses still do not recognize the aggravated nature of that crime when it is committed against young children.

In response to this, the Dallas office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Homeland Security Investigations and leaders from 17 other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies formed the North Texas Trafficking Task Force two years ago.

Designed to combine expertise, training and law enforcement to identify human traffickers and prosecute them while also protecting victims, the NTTTF also consists of six police departments from the DFW area, including Plano.

With the human trafficking industry being even more secretive than other crimes, ICE relies heavily on tips from the public to dismantle these organizations. To help further educate the public, the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign was created to increase awareness.

“You can’t put a dent in it unless the public is aware because that is where the majority of our leads come from,” said Carl Rusnok, spokesman for ICE Central Region in Dallas.

With 29 press releases on ICE’s website pertaining to child pornography and exploitation in November alone, it’s clear that these crimes are increasing and the problem is mounting. Many people still do not understand that these threats are so close to home, said Shawn McGraw, group supervisor for the NTTTF.

“We view it as the public is not aware of it and people are still kind of shocked when you bring it up to them,” he said. “This is relatively new — it’s a learning process. It’s still so new people don’t know what it is or that it’s happening in their backyards. We have very few experts in it.”

In an effort to evolve the law to more effectively keep traffickers behind bars, prosecutors will typically use whatever laws they can to combat this crime, McGraw said.

“It’s taking the tool out of the tool belt and using it best you can,” he said.

If they’re not charged with trafficking, they use similar charges like harboring or a multitude of violations in order to create the outcome they want. The more arrests that are made, the more ICE and the NTTTF can help perfect the law.

Last year, the NTTTF made 48 criminal arrests, but there’s a lot more work to do, said Sean Carson, assistant special agent for the NTTTF. Cornyn’s act will hopefully enable them to do just that, he said.

“Our goal is to get more cases before judges to get these violators taken down,” Carson said. “They’re selling human flesh for profit. They’re earning large sums on a commodity that is reusable and resalable, much more than narcotics or illegal arms.”


Oceanside couple arrested for sex trafficking a child

Girl grew up and came back to seek justice

A Mexican girl sent to America for a better life never saw the inside of a classroom. Instead, she became a human-trafficking victim in Oceanside.

For nearly two years, the 12-year-old was raped repeatedly, beaten, sold for sex and forced to work for no pay by a couple related to her, law-enforcement sources said.

The alleged traffickers, a husband and wife, were arrested Thursday on Brooks Street near Maxson Street by the North County Human Trafficking Task Force. That coalition includes the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Oceanside police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations team.

Inez Martinez Garcia, 43, and her husband, Marcial Garcia Hernandez, 45, were booked on 13 felony counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under age 14, the sheriff’s department. Both immigrated from Mexico and are legal permanent residents of the United States.

“There have been some real bad cases, but this is one of the worst cases we’ve had,” said Sgt. Joe Mata of the sheriff’s department. “This was so important because there are so many victims and nothing gets done.”

The victim, now an adult, came forward two and a half years ago with details of the abuses she suffered after she was smuggled into the country. Her name and current age have not been released because of the sexual nature of the crime and authorities’ ongoing investigation.

Once at the Hernandez home, she was forced to care for the couple’s three young children, cook and clean, said sheriff’s deputy George Crysler, the case investigator. She was also forced to have sex with Hernandez and occasionally sold as a sex slave, he said.

In addition, the suspects allegedly made the girl lie about her age to get a job at a restaurant and then kept her wages.

The victim was beaten whenever she refused to participate in sex or did not complete her work to her traffickers’ satisfaction, said Crysler, who added that she was “under the constant threat of physical abuse.”

The captivity lasted 21 months before the girl was beaten so severely that someone reported the situation to authorities. Child Protective Services removed the victim from the home and eventually returned her to her family in Mexico, Mata said.

At the time of the trafficking, the child did not have permission to be in the United States. She has legal status today, according to the sheriff’s department.

In the past decade, law-enforcement agencies and nongovernmental groups across the country have focused on human trafficking and strived to increase awareness of the crime. Human trafficking — labor and sex — rivals drug trafficking as the second most profitable criminal enterprise behind the arms trade.

National and international leaders have also been paying more attention to the crime, which they said has ensnared tens of millions of people. A study released this week by a San Diego State University researcher estimated that 31 percent of unauthorized immigrants who were surveyed had experienced labor trafficking, often including sexual abuse.

Experts said foreigners are often lured to the U.S. with promises of a better life, but find themselves sold for sex or working in terrible conditions with little to no pay. Confinement can be physical as well as psychological.

Trafficking victims can also be U.S. citizens — including those enslaved by gangs, which have become involved in sex trafficking in recent years, said Don Stump, executive director of North County Lifeline. His organization provides counseling and mental-health services to victims of trafficking and child abuse, among other clients.

Lifeline is helping the victim in the Oceanside case, but Stump said he could not give specifics to protect the victim and maintain her privacy.

“She has been a very cooperative and forthright client in working with law enforcement because she wants to see some justice,” said Stump, whose organization hosted a daylong conference about trafficking on Friday in Oceanside. “The biggest challenge right now with human trafficking is making sure the services are in place for the victims, but also making sure the community is aware of the specifics of trafficking right in their own neighborhoods.”

Mata of the sheriff’s department said when the young woman returned to the U.S., she was encouraged to come forward by someone close to her. She had begun to experience flashbacks and showed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

She sought help from the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, which works with trafficking victims. The group, based in National City, helped reopen her juvenile case and notify authorities about the abuse she had suffered as a child.

Marisa Ugarte, director of the coalition, said her organization maintains victims’ confidentiality. She did say the survivor in this case is no longer a client.

“There are many, many cases like this one,” Ugarte said. “The most important part now is that she is here and she is going to get justice.”

One challenge for groups that help trafficking victims is that unauthorized immigrants, including children, are often returned to their native country even though they may qualify for legal status as a victim of trafficking or other crimes. In such situations, including the Oceanside case, the alleged abusers are not prosecuted.

Hernandez and Garcia are in jail and will be arraigned early next week. A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office said it is too soon to comment on the case.




Proposition 35 Explained

Proposition 35 Explained

Proposition 35 is also known as the “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act” Initiative.  If it is approved by voters it will change the penalties for sex traffickers.  Among the changes: increasing the prison terms for human traffickers, requiring convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, requiring all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, requiring criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims and mandating law enforcement training on human trafficking.

Published in: on October 12, 2012 at 8:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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James A Todd
About me: I am super excited to be a father. Oh how my life has changed. March 23rd is going to be a great day.
E. Michigan Alum ’03
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Married to Leigh Wilson Todd

James A Todd

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E. Michigan Alum ’03
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PE Educator
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Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 6:58 am  Leave a Comment