The DOJ announced a massive conviction of 36 people in a sex trafficking ring. 

From DOJ:

Five defendants were convicted yesterday by a federal jury for their roles in operating a massive international sex trafficking organization that was responsible for coercing hundreds of Thai women to engage in commercial sex acts across the United States.

Michael Morris, 65, of Seal Beach, California; Pawinee Unpradit, 46, of Dallas, Texas; Saowapha Thinram, 44, of Hutto, Texas; Thoucharin Ruttanamongkongul, 35, of Chicago Illinois; and Waralee Wanless, 39, of The Colony, Texas, were convicted following a six-week trial before Senior Judge Donovan Frank in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Thirty-one defendants previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the sex trafficking organization.

The convictions were announced yesterday by U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald for the District of Minnesota, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) St. Paul, Supervisory Special Agent Todd Strom of IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and Directing Attorney Panida Rzonca for the Thai Community Development Center.

“More than two years ago, my office filed the first federal indictment against a criminal organization that relied on the sexual exploitation of women for their own financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney MacDonald.  “Since then, our team of prosecutors and investigators systematically dismantled the organization, while seeking justice for every victim of this organization.  The process has been long, but today’s guilty verdict represents both a successful and just outcome.  While our work combatting human trafficking continues, this case stands as a powerful example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to achieving justice for victims.  I applaud our law enforcement partners for the remarkable dedication and collaboration they have demonstrated throughout this process.”

“The defendants convicted yesterday participated in a massive yet brutally efficient criminal enterprise that trafficked hundreds of vulnerable Thai women for sexual exploitation and used sophisticated money laundering techniques to conceal and sustain itself,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “The Criminal Division, through our Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to dismantle the financial infrastructure supporting criminal organizations such as these.”

“Sex trafficking is a horrific crime that seeks to erode the human dignity of victims,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.  “I want to thank U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald, the District of Minnesota’s Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team, HSI St. Paul, IRS Criminal Investigations, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and other law enforcement and local partners for their hard work on this case which dismantled an extensive transnational trafficking enterprise.  The Department of Justice will bring the full force of the law against perpetrators of sex trafficking crimes.”

“The convictions of these defendants close this chapter for law enforcement, however mark only the beginning of the recovery process for the victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Comier.  “I am extremely proud of the work done by HSI’s special agents, and of the teamwork demonstrated by our law enforcement partners in dismantling this criminal organization.  Our communities are safer as a result of this investigation.”

“The cruel and illegal actions of the defendants tear at the fabric of our community, causing trauma, fear and anguish both seen and unseen,” said St. Paul Police Chief Axtell.  “Thankfully, due to the exceptional work of many law enforcement agencies and their representatives, the guilty will be held accountable for their actions and survivors will get help, support and justice.” 

“The guilty verdict of these five individuals received yesterday is the culmination of a large sophisticated international sex trafficking criminal enterprise,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Strom.  “This criminal organization exploited women and laundered hundreds of thousands of illicit profits. Pooling the skills of each agency in this complex investigation made a tremendous team including IRS Criminal Investigation who provided the financial expertise to follow the money trail of these criminals.  Today’s guilty verdict demonstrates the collective efforts of law enforcement and U.S. Attorney’s Office who brought down an international sex trafficking organization.”

As proven at trial, this criminal organization compelled hundreds of women from Bangkok, Thailand, to engage in commercial sex acts in various cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Seattle and Austin.  The trafficking victims were often from impoverished backgrounds and spoke little or no English. They were coerced to participate in the criminal scheme through misleading promises of a better life in the United States and the ability to provide money to their families in Thailand. 

Once in the United States, the victims were sent to houses of prostitution where they were forced to have sex with strangers – every day – for up to 12 hours a day, at times having sex with 10 men a day.  The victims were isolated from the outside world.  They were not allowed to leave the houses of prostitution unless accompanied by a member of the criminal organization.  The victims moved around the United States between houses of prostitution in multiple cities.  They and their families in Thailand were threatened. 

The organization also engaged in widespread visa fraud to facilitate the international transportation of the victims.  Traffickers assisted the victims in obtaining fraudulent visas and travel documents by funding false bank accounts, creating fictitious backgrounds and occupations, and instructing the victims to enter into fraudulent marriages to increase the likelihood that their visa applications would be approved.  Traffickers also coached the victims as to what to say during their visa interviews.  While working to obtain visa documents, traffickers gathered personal information from the victims, including the location of the victims’ families in Thailand.  This information was later used to threaten victims who sought to flee the organization in the United States.

The organization dealt primarily in cash and engaged in rampant and sophisticated money laundering in order to promote and conceal illegal profits. The organization used “funnel accounts” to launder and route cash from cities across the United States to the money launderers in Los Angeles.  To date, investigators have been able to recover $1.5 million in cash and $15 million in money judgments secured through plea agreements.  During the extensive investigation, law enforcement traced tens of millions of dollars to the organization.  Indeed, at trial, there was testimony that more than $40 million was sent to Thailand by one money launderer alone.

The District of Minnesota is one of six districts designated through a nationwide selection process as a Phase II Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam), an ACTeam Initiative of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Labor. ACTeams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.  Today’s convictions validate the continued ACTeam mission—to take on and take down the most entrenched and sophisticated human trafficking organizations that seek to profit from human exploitation.

U.S. Attorney MacDonald, Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband commended the multiple agencies that assisted in this investigation over the past three years including: HSI; IRS-CI; the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit;  the St. Paul Police Department; the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force; the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office; the Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff’s Office; the State Department Diplomatic Security Service; and the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2).  U.S. Attorney MacDonald also thanks the Thai Community Development Center for the support and advocacy they have done on behalf of the victims of this sex trafficking organization.

U.S. Attorney MacDonald, Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband further thanked the trial team led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melinda A. Williams and Laura Provinzino, with assistance from HSI Special Agent Tonya Price, IRS-CI Special Agent John Tschida, Senior Investigator Steven Baker of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit for their dedication to the pursuit of justice

Here are the convictions 

MICHAEL J. MORRIS, 65

Seal Beach, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Sex trafficking by use of force, fraud, and coercion, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

PAWINEE UNPRADIT, 46 

Dallas, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

SAOWAPHA THINRAM, 44 

Hutto, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

THOUCHARIN RUTTANAMONGKONGUL, 35 

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

WARALEE WANLESS, 39

The Colony, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

CHATARAK TAUFFLIEB, 52

San Jose, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PEERACHET THIPBOONNGAM, 58

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

GREGORY ALLEN KIMMY, 38

Hutto, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

WILAIWAN PHIMKHALEE, 40

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

KANYARAT CHAIWIRAT, 52

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PORNTHEP SUKPRASERT, 42

Huntington Beach, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

MULCHULEE CHALERMSAKULRAT, 41

Huntington Beach, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

BHUNNA WIN, 51

San Diego, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Unlicensed money transmitting business, 1 count

NATCHANOK YUVASUTA, 50

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

NATTAYA LEELARUNGRAYAB, 47

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PEERASAK GUNTETONG, 61

North Hollywood, CA

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

VEERAPON GHETTALAE, 57

Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

MATTHEW MINTZ, 27

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit alien harboring, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

MOHIT TANDON, 38

Burr Ridge, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

RICHARD ALEXANDER, 53

DeKalb, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

TANAKRON PATRATH, 60

Houston, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PANWAD KHOTPRATOOM, 47

Houston, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

CHABAPRAI BOONLUEA, 44

Winder, Ga.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

NOPPAWAN LERSLURCHACHAI, 37

Lomita, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Sex trafficking by use of force, fraud, and coercion, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

WATCHARIN LUAMSEEJUN, 48

Unknown

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PANTILA RODPHOKHA, 33

Mount Prospect, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

SOYSUDA SIANGDANG, 34

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

ANDREW FLANIGAN, 53

Winder, Ga.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

TODD VASSEY, 56

Lahanina, Hawaii

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

THI VU, 50

Atlanta, Ga.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

JOHN ZBRACKI, 61

Lakeville, Minn.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

JOHN NG, 41

Cottage Grove, Minn.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PATCHARAPORN SAENGKHAM, 43

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

CHANANCHIDA SENASU, 42

Dallas, Tex.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

YADAPORN PANNGOEN, 32

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

CHONTHICHA SOICHAISONG, 38

Austin, Tex.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count
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