About a dozen people were arrested in cities across the US on Tuesday for running what authorities called a sophisticated sex trafficking operation in which hundreds of women were brought from Thailand to the US under fraudulent visas and forced to work as prostitutes to pay off tens of thousands of US dollars in bondage debts.
The women — including one who was forced to have sex with strangers for 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week — were not allowed to move about freely and were “effectively modern day sex slaves,” according to a redacted indictment unsealed on Tuesday.
The arrests, along with the recent arrest of the organization’s boss in Belgium, will effectively dismantle the operation, said Alex Khu, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Minneapolis.
“We feel pretty confident that based on the number of important-position folks we are taking down, we’ll really hurt this organization,” he said in an interview ahead of an official announcement about the arrests.
The indictment charges 17 people with various counts, including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit forced labor, conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to commit visa fraud. About a dozen people were arrested in the Minneapolis area, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Khu said his office began investigating a sex trafficking case in the Twin Cities in January 2014 and discovered it was part of an international ring and “a very sophisticated, complex network operating throughout the United States ... where women are really placed on a circuit, traveling from one city to the next.”
According to the indictment, since 2009, hundreds of women were brought from Bangkok to several US cities, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Washington and Dallas. The women were from poor backgrounds, spoke little English and were lured with promises of a better life.
The operation’s bosses or traffickers in Thailand entered the women into a bondage debt “contract” in exchange for a visa and travel to the US. As part of the contract, the women would owe a debt ranging from US$40,000 to US$60,000 and would be “owned” by the organization until that debt was repaid.
The women were often encouraged to have breast implants and the cost of the surgery was added to their debt.
Once they arrived in the US, the women were forced to have sex in various “houses of prostitution,” including hotels, massage parlors and apartments. They were not allowed to leave without escorts — who would have sex with the victims as part of their payment.
Khu said the head of the organization, who was based in Thailand, was recently arrested in Belgium for separate trafficking offenses there.
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