Palm Beach County criminal defense attorneys understand this was not a typical operation. There were no women trolling strips or waving down potential johns from the sidewalk. It wasn’t as high-end as some of the escort services you might find in Miami or Las Vegas either. Rather, it something in the middle.
Investigators say the two women who acted as madams to at least six escorts also prostituted themselves on occasion. Authorities say the pair made hundreds of thousands of dollars, with one owning a six-bedroom house in a gated community.
They are both now facing charges of money laundering and procuring prostitutes, but they evaded human trafficking charges because investigators said there was no evidence any of those who worked for the pair were doing so against their will. This was despite the fact that one of the women who worked for the two told investigators she had been forced into it.
The five-month investigation, involving city police, state police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was sparked by the detention of one of the escorts on an immigration violation. While she was in custody, she told immigration officials that she was forced into working as a prostitute over a period of nine months. She said she flew in from Brazil in the late summer of 2011, and was introduced to the two alleged madams, who were also Brazilian.
They reportedly offered a job and told her she needn’t engage in sexual intercourse with clients. The woman agreed, but when the two leaders of the operation learned she had no passport and was in the country illegally, they reportedly began to threaten that if she did not have sex with the male clients, they would turn her into immigration authorities.
It’s not clear whether the woman’s claims were verified or whether the others involved told similar stories. What we do know is that such allegations will likely become more frequent, even when those participating were doing so willingly. That’s because while willingly acting as a prostitute will get you a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year jail term, young persons deemed to be trafficking victims are exempt from prosecution and eligible for a host of services under the newly-implemented Safe Harbor Act, which went into effect Jan. 1 of this year.
Additionally, House Bill 7049, which went into effect last summer, not only boosted the authorization for wiretapping and in these cases, it increased the penalties for persons convicted of human trafficking. Specifically, the measure:
–Added various new human trafficking offenses to the list of offenses that qualify a person as a predator or sexual offender for registration purposes;
–Makes a number of human trafficking offenses first-degree felonies, punishable by up to life in prison;
–Makes human smuggling a third-degree felony, rather than a first-degree misdemeanor, which increased the maximum punishment from 1 year to 5 years.
–Makes it an increased offense if the alleged victim is under the age of 15.
In the case, none of this appears to have been at issue – though it’s unsurprising that such an allegation was made.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
Boca officer’s wife among those arrested in connection to prostitution ring, Jan. 23, 2013, By Alexandra Seltzer, The Palm Beach Post
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