Federal Human Trafficking Offenses
Human trafficking / Sex Trafficking is another area that the Justice Department is dedicating vast resources to investigate and prosecute. Investigations are generally conducted by joint task forces of Homeland Security agents, along with local law enforcement. Investigations may focus on local spas, massage parlors and online adult escort or dating sites. The targets of these investigations are owner/managers, but actual sex workers are frequently charged, usually for the purpose of leveraging incriminating statements out of them towards the owner/managers. The government has been known to treat sex workers as victims but not all the time. Investigations focus on business and financial records, along with surveillance and undercover agents making prostitution cases either inside targeted establishments or after an online contact with an individual from an escort or dating site. The penalties are quite severe involving not only incarceration, but forfeiture of assets. Money, cars, homes are subject to seizure if they can be traced back to revenue generated from an illegal business. Related charges such as money laundering and tax evasion are frequently levied. I have been involved in cases where money from prostitution enterprises has been laundered in substantial amounts through casinos and donations to churches.
After developing information in which the agents believe they have obtained probable cause, they will seek search and seizure warrants from a magistrate to search business establishments and the homes of who they believe are the owners. These warrants usually provide for the seizure of any cash found at these locations, along with any bank accounts connected to these locations. Not all search warrants are legally sufficient. I have had searches quashed based on faulty search warrants with the evidence seized suppressed. That particular case was ultimately dismissed by the government with the non- contraband items returned to the client. In another situation, I was able to negotiate the settlement of a human trafficking case without criminal charges being filed using what I believed was another faulty search as leverage with the government.
Often the government will seek detention pending disposition of these cases. An accused can seek release pending trial by way of a detention hearing, where both the government and defense can offer testimony regarding their respective positions. If an accused is arrested for sex trafficking and is not a U.S. citizen release pending case disposition is unlikely. Not only does the non-citizen have to contend with the federal criminal charges, they also must contend with the immigration consequences.
The forfeiture of assets in connection to human trafficking involves a civil action separate from the underlying criminal trafficking case. The burden of proving assets linked to a criminal enterprise is less than that required in a criminal case. The investigating agency will first seek to forfeit seized assets through an administrative process. Several options are available through the administrative process. In my experience I usually forgo this process and have the forfeiture case transferred to the federal district court and deal directly with a federal prosecutor.
If you have been charged with a federal human trafficking offense, contact Howard Blackmon for an attorney experienced in defending these cases.