[Stop-traffic] News/US: Feds bust alleged smuggling scheme

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Feds bust alleged smuggling scheme
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Jul 24 2000 - 11:56:14 EDT

Feds bust alleged smuggling scheme
Authorities say Thai women forced to work as prostitutes
By Edward Hegstrom
Houston Chronicle, June 5, 2000

Federal authorities brought charges Monday against seven people who
allegedly smuggled Thai women into Houston where they were forced to
work locally as prostitutes.

The charges filed in U.S. district court came as the result of a
ground-breaking international sting operation run by the Immigration
and Naturalization Service. Undercover INS officers traveled to
Bangkok, Thailand, and Santiago, Chile, to investigate the ring,
according to court papers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward F. Gallagher III described the
investigation as "one of the most significant of its kind ever done."

The indictment alleges that the Bangkok-based operation included two
elements. Chinese immigrants paid a smuggling fee and were brought to
the United States and set free. Additionally, Thai women were brought
to Houston and forced to work as prostitutes in local establishments
known as "modeling studios." The women were required to work until
the cost of their smuggling was paid off.

The charges come as national attention increasingly focuses on the
smuggling of women for prostitution. Between 40,000 and 50,000 women
and children are trafficked into the United States every year,
according to a 1999 CIA report that labels the phenomenon a
"contemporary manifestation of slavery."

The report noted that Houston is an increasingly important point of
entry for the women.

The CIA found that the women are often promised jobs as waitresses or
maids, only to arrive in the United States to find that they are
forced into prostitution. They are confined to brothels where the
entrance is sometimes guarded and their passports are taken away.

The smuggling operations are typically small and loosely organized,
but they can bring in profits of more than $1 million a year,
according to the report.

"Most of the time, these women have no idea they are being brought
over for prostitution," said Jennifer Stanger of the Los
Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. "They get
here and they are basically stuck."

The court papers name nine Asians who were allegedly brought to the
United States by the defendants. However, one of the defendants in
Bangkok told an undercover INS agent that he was capable of bringing
as many as 100 Chinese immigrants a month into the United States.

Three of those charged -- Phiet The Mai, 27, Sriwan Sakyai, 28, and
Hoc Phan, 43 -- live in Houston. A fourth, Ratiporn
Tantirojanakitkan, 30, is from Los Angeles. Three others live in
Bangkok and have not yet been apprehended.

Charges included conspiracy, encouraging unlawful immigration, fraud
and misuse of immigration documents, transporting aliens and
transporting for prostitution.

The charges each carry maximum sentences varying between five and 10 years.

The sting operation began on May 1, 1998, when an undercover INS
agent met with Mai to arrange a deal whereby the agent would sell
false immigration documents, court papers said. The agent then sold
Mai several false immigration documents for $3,000 apiece.

The agent later met with Sakyai, who said she had paid off her own
smuggling fee to come to the United States and was now supplying Thai
prostitutes for modeling studios in Houston.

In February, Sakyai agreed to introduce the agent to her "Thai boss"
in Bangkok.

At least some of the Thai women flew from Bangkok to the United
States. But the court papers do not indicate how the Chinese migrants
were brought into the country.

Nor is there any indication as to whether the Thai women knew they
were brought to the United States to work as prostitutes, or how much
they were charged for their smuggling.

Gallagher refused to comment beyond the scope of the court papers. An
INS spokeswoman contacted late Monday said she could not comment on
the case until today.
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
Stop-Traffic Moderator

Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
Program for Appropriate Technology in Health
Stop-traffic is facilitated, international electronic list
funded by the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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