HARRISBURG – U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus announces that U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released the Justice Department’s new National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking this week pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
Rooted in the foundational pillars and priorities of the interagency National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which President Biden released on Dec. 3, 2021, the Justice Department's National Strategy is expansive in scope. It aims to enhance the department's capacity to prevent human trafficking; to prosecute human trafficking cases; and to support and protect human trafficking victims and survivors.
“Human trafficking is an insidious crime,” said Attorney General Garland. “Traffickers exploit and endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cause their victims unimaginable harm. The Justice Department’s new National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking will bring the full force of the Department to this fight.”
Among other things, the Justice Department’s multi-year strategy to combat all forms of human trafficking will:
- Strengthen engagement, coordination and joint efforts to combat human trafficking by prosecutors in all 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and by federal law enforcement agents nationwide.
- Establish federally-funded, locally-led anti-human trafficking task forces that support sustained state law enforcement leadership and comprehensive victim assistance.
- Step up departmental efforts to end forced labor by increasing attention, resources and coordination in labor trafficking investigations and prosecutions.
- Enhance initiatives to reduce vulnerability of American Indians and Alaska Natives to violent crime, including human trafficking, and to locate missing children.
- Develop and implement new victim screening protocols to identify potential human trafficking victims during law enforcement operations and encourage victims to share important information.
- Increase capacity to provide victim-centered assistance to trafficking survivors, including by supporting efforts to deliver financial restoration to victims.
- Expand dissemination of federal human trafficking training, guidance and expertise.
- Advance innovative demand-reduction strategies.
The department’s strategy will be implemented under the direction of the National Human Trafficking Coordinator designated by the Attorney General in accordance with the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017.
“Human traffickers prey on vulnerable citizens using manipulation, false promises, and at times sheer force to ensnare victims into commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor,” said U.S. Attorney John C. Gurgan. "With our federal, state, and local partners, we are dedicated to bringing these criminals to justice and devoted to providing victims with the necessary resources available to them.”
An example of these efforts in the Middle District of Pennsylvania are as follows:
- U.S. v. Faizal Bhimani and Om Sri Sai, Inc. Om Sri Sai, Inc., a company that owned and operated a Howard Johnson hotel located in Bartonsville, PA, and Faizal Bhimani, the general manager of that hotel, were both convicted by a jury on October 23, 2020, of aiding and abetting sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, and sex trafficking conspiracy, as well as drug trafficking conspiracy and managing a drug-related premises. It is noted that this is the first time a hotel and a hotel general manager have been convicted of criminal sex trafficking offenses for aiding others to engage in that activity in Pennsylvania. Both defendants are currently scheduled for sentencing hearings in February 2022.
- U.S. v. William Battle. A 29-year-old East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania man was sentenced to 210 months’ imprisonment on February 26, 2021, for participating in a conspiracy that forced or coerced women to engage in prostitution in northeastern Pennsylvania. Battle’s conviction and sentence resulted from an investigation into the activities of a street gang known as the “Black P-Stones.” Females were “sexed-in” to the gang by being forced to engage in sex with male gang members; recruited and coerced to engage in prostitution; advertised as adult escorts on a website; provided with heroin and other drugs; and placed in various area hotels/motels to work as prostitutes. Gang members, including Battle, used threats, force, drugs, and intimidation to coerce females to engage in prostitution. The leader of the Black P-Stones, Sirvonn Taylor, was previously sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. Other high-level gang members that have been sentenced in the case include: Jose Velasquez—17 ½ years’ imprisonment; Jamiell Sims—12 ½ years’ imprisonment; Arthur Taylor—7 years’ imprisonment; and Jordan Capone—7 years’ imprisonment.
U.S. Attorney Gurganus encourages the community to be aware of indicators of trafficking and report suspicious activity. Recognizing key indicators is the first step in identifying victims and can help save them.
Indicators of human trafficking can include the following:
- An individual with an inability to produce identification or other documents because they are in a third party’s possession and control.
- An individual who is unable to freely contact friends or family.
- An individual who is coached on what to say to law enforcement or other authority figures.
- An individual who lacks knowledge or awareness as to what happens to the money they earn/are supposed to earn.
- An individual who lacks knowledge or awareness as to how much money they earn.
- An individual who is unable move or travel freely.
- Garnishment of a salary to pay off a fee imposed by their employer.
- Juveniles engaged in commercial sex.
- Frequent visits to the emergency department.
If you believe that you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or Text 233733.
To read the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking click here.
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