Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Ashcroft
Regarding Human Trafficking
January 29, 2004

(Please Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

Good afternoon.

Engraved in the stone walls of this building are the noble words: "Law alone can give us freedom." For the victims of human trafficking these words carry a profound truth-and often the only hope of liberation.

Today, we are here to announce the sentencing of members of two criminal organizations guilty of trafficking in human lives and crushing personal dignity.

In just a few hours, the U.S. District Court in Hawaii will sentence Kil Soo Lee and his two accomplices. The conviction of Kil Soo Lee and his co-conspirators marks the largest human-trafficking case ever prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice.

Lee, a Korean national, was the owner of a forced-labor factory in the territory of American Samoa. After a three-month trial he was convicted on 14 counts, including:

From 1999 through November 2000, defendant Lee and his underlings used threats, arrest, deportations, starvation, confinement, and beatings to hold over 200 Vietnamese and Chinese garment workers in servitude.

In a particularly savage example of Lee's cruelty, the defendants ordered and carried out a mass beating of the workers on November 28, 2000, including gouging out one victim's eye who dared to complain about not being paid.

Samoan workers-acting on the defendants' orders-kicked, stomped, and beat the workers using pipes and chairs. That majority of the victims were young women-much smaller and more vulnerable to the enforcers.

What is especially sad is that these Vietnamese and Chinese victims paid $5,000 to $8,000 for what they believed was a legitimate fee for a new job that would lead to a better way of life. That fee is the equivalent of five to ten year's salary in their home countries. They were willing to sacrifice for the American dream only to be met with oppression from those who believed they were above the law.

Today, Kil Soo Lee faces the laws-and the justice-of the United States.

Unfortunately, Kil Soo Lee and his co-conspirators are not the only predators trafficking in human lives and trampling hope and dreams.

Today also marks the sentencing of seven Texas men guilty of confining women in alien smuggling "safe houses" and raping them repeatedly.

From August 2002 to March 2003, three brothers-Juan Carlos Soto, Armando Soto, and Hector Soto-operated an alien smuggling ring out of a series of mobile homes in the Edinburg, Texas area.

During their period of operation, the Sotos and their henchmen smuggled groups of young women from Mexico into the United States, using the trailers as "safe houses."

After housing them there for a short period of time, the smugglers then transported the aliens north, guiding them around internal Border Patrol checkpoints and on to Houston, Texas.

From January through March of 2003, Juan Carlos Soto held four women in a condition of involuntary servitude. In actuality, he held them as his sex slaves. He brandished a handgun and used force and threats to rape the women or to force them to engage in sexual activity with other members of his organization. In addition to raping the women repeatedly, Soto forced the women to work during the day, cooking and cleaning for the men at the trailer complex.

On February 7, 2003, Juan Carlos Soto, enraged that two of the women had tried to contact a neighbor for help, ordered his men to transport the women in the trunk of one of the alien smuggling vehicles to an irrigation ditch. There, he and his men raped and beat the two women to punish them for trying to escape. Soto then ordered some of his workers to kill the women, but instead they dropped them off on the outskirts of town.

Ultimately, all defendants pled guilty, including the lead defendants on trafficking charges. U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane imposed the sentences in McAllen, Texas: Armando Soto-Huarto was sentenced to ten years in prison and ordered to make $11,532 in restitution to the victims.

Unfortunately, Jose Luis Villa-Zavala pled guilty, but did not appear for sentencing. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. And Hector Soto is still at large, charged with conspiracy. We are working with local law enforcement to bring them both to justice.

The cases of Kil Soo Lee and the Soto brothers are evidence of this Administration's commitment to stop human trafficking and all cases of sexual slavery. One of my first acts as Attorney General was to make this effort a top priority of the United States Department of Justice. On March 27, 2001, I announced the creation of a comprehensive anti-trafficking initiative.

Our record shows the concrete results of that commitment. Over the last three fiscal years:

These prosecutions represent more than just the punishment of wrongdoers. These crimes extend beyond the bounds of law. They are an affront to human dignity, an assault on nation's core beliefs.

This nation's laws are built on the belief that every human life is precious. The cause of justice is the cause of every American, but the full-time defense of life and liberty is the passion and privilege of this department.

Slavery, human trafficking, and sexual servitude are crimes that wrench our hearts. They rob human beings of freedom. They strike at our nation's belief in the potential of every life.

They are crimes that demand swift and implacable prosecution of the predators. They are crimes that deserve warmth and compassion for the victims.

I commend the Civil Rights Division led by Assistant Attorney General R. Alex Acosta for their active and compassionate defense of the victims of sex trafficking, sex slavery, and involuntary servitude. Such service upholds our nation's highest ideals.

I also thank the Criminal Division under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray for their role and their support in prosecuting these cases.

I also commend the many U.S. Attorneys Offices who have brought and continue to bring these cases to court. They have done a tremendous job in bringing these predators to justice.

In addition, I am grateful to the men and women of local law enforcement. Without constant communication, coordination, and cooperation, we could not have achieved the extraordinary successes of the last three years.

For every American who values life and liberty, today's sentences are truly a reminder that those words-"Law alone can give us freedom"-are not just etched in stone on the walls of the U.S. Department of Justice.

More importantly, they are written on the hearts of the men and women serving justice. They are words that spur us to help all those oppressed by servitude and slavery.

Thank you.