BAY AREA Thursday, September 30, 2004
Major crackdown on human trafficking
Feds make Northern California focus of new effort
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Eager to curtail the $13 billion human trafficking industry, Bay Area law
enforcement officials announced Wednesday a new task force charged
with stemming the tide of women and children brought here for cheap labor
and sexual servitude.
Authorities say Northern California is a "prime destination point" for people
who are kidnapped abroad or lured to the United States and forced into
prostitution or slavery, and they say the task force -- to be led by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services -- will prosecute traffickers and
"This campaign's focus is to combat human trafficking," said Kevin Ryan,
U.S. attorney in San Francisco. "It is a modern-day form of slavery."
At a news conference in San Francisco, a broad coalition of law agencies
announced the task force -- with the motto, "Rescue and Restore Victims
of Human Trafficking." The effort includes a campaign designed to alert
people to the problem and enlist their help in solving it.
Most victims, afraid of repercussions, simply cannot escape the clutches of
their captors without the public's help, officials said. "Law enforcement
cannot do it alone," said Art Balizan, assistant special agent in charge of
the FBI in San Francisco.
The State Department estimates as many as 17,500 victims, most of them
women and children, are brought into the country each year. Many are
from Asia, and investigators are seeing more women from Eastern Europe,
said Steve Wagner, a regional official with the federal Health and Human
Several other cities, including Las Vegas and Miami, have similar task
The local campaign will prosecute traffickers and help their victims -- who
are often forced to work in sweatshops, massage parlors, brothels and
even suburban homes -- after they've escaped their lives of slavery. A
2000 federal law grants such victims temporary citizenship status and
makes them eligible for housing, job training, health care and other
"We view trafficked individuals as victims of a crime that deserve support
and protection," Ryan said.
Brad Schlozman, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in
Washington, D.C., said a 14-year-old girl in Florida had been "raped by
dozens of men" daily. She kept a teddy bear on the nightstand, her "one
connection to childhood," next to paper towels the men used to clean up,
"It is evil. It is repugnant. It is hideous," Schlozman said. He noted that
federal officials have prosecuted 155 human-trafficking cases nationwide in
recent years, with a "100 percent success rate."
Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, acknowledged that human
trafficking was "not something we like to talk about." But the issue "plagues
and haunts our communities," including many Bay Area cities, he said.
In the Bay Area, Ryan noted the case against Berkeley landlord Lakireddy
Bali Reddy and his relatives for trafficking girls from India. Reddy was
sentenced in 2001 to more than eight years in federal prison and ordered
to pay $2 million in restitution.
The U.S. attorney also alluded to the case against former Sunnyvale police
Officer David Lee Miller Jr., who is awaiting trial in federal court in San
Jose on charges of helping brothels avoid police raids. Miller, who was
indicted in 2002, has pleaded not guilty.
The public awareness campaign will include public service announcements
and posters in English and Spanish bearing the slogan, "Look Beneath the
Surface." They show pictures of young women and a hot line for people to
report suspected victims of trafficking: (888) 3737-888.