MN officials help stop a 'sophisticated' global sex trafficking scheme

At least two Minnesotans were charged in the "highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme."

Seventeen people, including at least two Minnesotans, have been charged in connection with a "highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme" that saw hundreds of women transported from Thailand to the United States, and forced to work as "modern day sex slaves" until they paid off expensive debts.

The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger Wednesday, after the indictment was unsealed the day before. It's the ninth sex trafficking indictment from Luger's office since 2014, but he says it's the first one that targets an entire organization, effectively dismantling it, according to the news release.

The charges

Seventeen people (12 Thai nationals and five U.S. nationals) were charged in the indictment with various prostitution and sex trafficking-related charges. Thirteen of the 17 suspects have been arrested – including the boss of the scheme – while four remain at-large.

Luger says these suspects promised women in Thailand the chance for a better life in America, "but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare."

According to the indictment:
Since at least 2009, the organization recruited and transported hundreds of women – many from impoverished backgrounds and knew little English – to U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, for a debt of $40,000 to $60,000.

Victims – who the organization referred to as "flowers" – were forced to live in "houses of prostitution," where they worked long hours, often all day and every day. (There were at least seven "houses of prostitution" in the Minneapolis area, and more than a dozen victims were trafficked through Minnesota.)

The majority of the money each victim earned went toward paying off their debt, while the rest went to the boss in charge of the prostitution house they were forced to live in. The victim was allowed to keep very little or none of the money she earned.

Members of the organization also encouraged victims to get breast implants in Thailand to make them "more appealing" to potential buyers in the U.S. – and the cost of the surgery was added to the victim's debt.

The victims were also often charged for the cost of food, travel and housing. And until they paid off their debt, they were "owned" by members of the organization.

Sex trafficking in Minnesota

Human sex trafficking has been a focus of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota because it has multiple "vulnerabilities" – risk factors including an international airport, lots of tourists, a large immigrant population, Fortune 500 companies and more. The attorney's office works with other organizations to provide services to victims, and says it aggressively prosecutes traffickers and those who purchase sex.

It's been estimated that 8,000 to 12,000 people are involved in prostitution and/or sex trafficking in Minnesota every day, according to a 2009 report by Advocates for Human Rights. And Minneapolis was previously identified by the FBI as one of 13 U.S. cities with a high incidence rate of child prostitution.

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received reports of 14,588 sex trafficking cases inside the United States, including 265 reported cases and 1,176 calls in Minnesota. As of June 2016, 37 human trafficking cases have been reported this year in the state, the agency says.

The Safe Harbor Law

And the state has taken several steps to combat sex trafficking, including passing a Safe Harbor Law that aims to ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t viewed as delinquents, but are treated as victims and given assistance through various services.

It went into full effect in 2014, and was used as a model for federal law that combats sex trafficking. An evaluation of the first year of the law showed 163 minors – ranging in age from 9-17 years old – received services through the program.

For more information on human trafficking in Minnesota, as well as resources if you need help, click here. For additional information on sex trafficking in the United States, click here.

Next Up

minnesota state fair

State Fair preparing to require masks indoors, capacity limits not ruled out

Things could change before Aug. 26, but an indoor mask mandate appears likely.

Byron Buxton

Extending Byron Buxton is an investment worth the risk

Buxton's value to the Twins exceeds some of their previous big contracts.

Screen Shot 2021-08-03 at 7.50.23 AM

Hunt for man wanted for murder of 20-year-old woman in Austin

The victim has been identified as Tyesha Tahne Gills.

police tape, crime scene

Police say man shot dead after dispute in north Minneapolis

The shooting happened at a residence along North Dupont Avenue.

Screen Shot 2021-07-30 at 10.55.37 AM

Bespoke office space for changing times, courtesy of Redbrick Commercial Real Estate

Redbrick Commercial Real Estate specializes in innovative and sustainable office spaces.

coronavirus, covid-19, icu

MN up to 45 counties with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission

Delta is leading to more cases – and more severe cases – involving children in other states.

Screen Shot 2021-05-23 at 9.08.48 AM

University of St. Thomas latest to require vaccines for students, staff

The college had previously offered incentives to get vaccinated, but is now mandating them.

Pixabay - crowd park outdoors CROP

New forecast predicts more than 4 million Twin Cities residents by 2050

The Met Council believes job opportunities will also steadily grow.


MN officials bust 'sophisticated' international sex trafficking ring

Investigators found the operation was based in California, but there were also branches in Minnesota.

21 more indicted in sex trafficking ring that brought victims to MN

Authorities say the women were lured to the U.S. with the promise of a better life, then forced to have sex with strangers.

Officials are working with hotels to combat sex trafficking

They're teaching workers to identify the signs of trafficking victims.

Man faces more charges in Lake Minnetonka sex trafficking operation

He's been charged in both Washington and Hennepin counties.

A campaign against human trafficking is coming to highway rest stops

Minnesota has one of the country's highest rates of human trafficking cases.

Charges: 2 people helped ER doctor arrange female genital mutilation procedures

The charges say two Minnesota girls were brought to Michigan to have it done.

Undercover Super Bowl sex-trafficking operation nets 40-plus arrests

14 women were also rescued from sex trafficking situations.