MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An international sex trafficking organization with ties to Minnesota has been dismantled.
Hundreds of women were flown from Thailand with fraudulent visas and forced to work as sex slaves to pay off thousands of dollars in debts.
Seventeen people were indicted, and 13 are behind bars, including the organization’s boss. She was arrested in Belgium.
The case that took more than two years to crack.
“For many years, these defendants recruited young women from Thailand to travel to the United Stated to engage in commercial sex,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger.
They were told they could come to America for a better life.
“The victims — that were called flowers by the criminal organization — were essentially held prisoner once they arrived in the U.S.” Luger said. “They were held in houses of prostitution and only allowed to leave if accompanied by organization employees.”
The indictment identifies 17 people responsible for sex trafficking and fraud.
The organization was sophisticated.
It used fraudulent visas to get the women into the U.S., some would have bondage debts of more than $40,000. Having sex for cash was the only way to pay it off.
Their services were advertised on websites like Backpage.com.
“This trafficking organization consisted of traffickers, house bosses, facilitators and runners,” Luger said.
They were shuttled from city to city — Atlanta, Dallas, Washington D.C. and Minneapolis. The victims were made to pay for their travel and expenses.
Locally, they would set up shop near airport hotels but others were working out of day spas and homes and apartments across the Twin Cities.
Bea Menanteau, an attorney with Advocates for Human Rights, says the prosecution of this international case sends a strong message to those who want to victimize others.
“If we can respond to this really complex case, then we can respond to the other cases that are just within Minnesota,” Menanteau said.
Minneapolis is one of 12 cities across the country designated as an anti-trafficking coordination team city.
Menanteau says giving people a pathway to report human trafficking is important.
If you are a victim, or know someone who is, call 612-843-8801 for help.