Florida Man Convicted of Sex Trafficking in Connection with Human Trafficking Scheme Targeting Foreign University Students
Defendant Used False and Fraudulent Promises to Recruit Foreign Students to Further a Prostitution and Erotic Massage Enterprise
Jeffrey Jason Cooper, 46, of Miami Beach, Florida, was convicted late yesterday on all 11 counts for organizing a scheme to lure foreign university students into the United States under false pretenses of legitimate summer jobs, only to advertise the students to customers of his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise.
Cooper was convicted of sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking by fraud, wire fraud, importation of persons for prostitution or immoral purposes and use of a facility of interstate commerce to operate a prostitution enterprise. A jury in the Southern District of Florida returned the verdict after four days of trial.
According to evidence presented in court, Cooper recruited foreign students from Kazakhstan through the State Department’s J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, using false and fraudulent promises of clerical jobs in a fictitious yoga studio in order to bring the students into the United States. After the students arrived in Miami in May 2011, Cooper revealed that the yoga studio did not exist and that he expected the students to perform erotic massages and commercial sex acts as part of his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, the students were advertised to customers from June 2011 until they were recovered by law enforcement in August 2011.
“Jeffrey Cooper used deception to lure unsuspecting foreign university students across the globe, only to be exploited for the defendant's own personal profit,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is fully committed to our international efforts to combat human trafficking - whether by fraud, force or otherwise.”
“Cooper preyed on students seeking to broaden their opportunities through an educational exchange program, using fraud and false promises to sell their bodies for his own profit,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “As this case demonstrates, the Civil Rights Division will continue to work vigorously with our Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team partners to bring traffickers to justice and vindicate the rights of vulnerable victims.”
“This case is the perfect example of how victims can travel half way around the world in an effort to better themselves only to be defrauded and exploited sexually,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Selby of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami. “HSI along with our federal and international law enforcement partners will continue to work diligently to ensure that individuals like Cooper do not exploit educational work programs for their own profit.”
“Diplomatic Security is committed to using all of the tools at our disposal to prevent human trafficking,” said Director Bill A. Miller of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “Our global presence enables our agency to serve as a liaison between U.S. and foreign law enforcement counterparts assisting both in their efforts to stop those that would manipulate instruments of international travel in order to exploit international students in this way.”
Cooper faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, a fine of up to $2,750,000 and an order to pay mandatory restitution to the victims. U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida will sentence Cooper on Feb. 16, 2017.
The case was investigated by HSI and DSS, with assistance from the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kazakhstan; the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Astana, Kazakhstan; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Miami Dade Police Department and the North Bay Village, Florida, Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth M. Schlessinger of the Southern District of Florida and Trial Attorney Matthew T. Grady of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
The Southern District of Florida is one of six Phase I Pilot Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams (ACTeams) convened through an interagency collaboration of the Departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security to develop high-impact federal human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking of adults by force, fraud and coercion.