MINNASOTAÂ – The US Attorney Generals office and Homeland Security announced Wednesday that 17 people in a sex trafficking ringÂ stretching from Thailand to various major US cities have been indited and arrested.
Twelve Thai nationals and five Americans were charged with illegally transporting hundreds of women from Thailand and forcing them into prostitution in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and other cities.
US Attorney Andrew Luger of the District of Minnesota said in a statement that the 17 people charged in this indictment ran a highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme.
Luger said they promised that young Thai women a chance at the American dream, but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare. In short, the victims lived like modern day sex slaves.
“The recruiters who met with them in Thailand were helpful, friendly and made the future in the United States sound bright,” Luger said, “but it was all a lie.”
According to the indictment, the organization targeted poor women who spoke little English, and promised them a better life in the US at a debt of US$40,000 to US$60,000.
It said the women were required to repay the debt through forced prostitution, working long hours, every day.
The women were not allowed to retain any of their earnings while paying off their debt, and were “owned” by a ring-leader named Sumalee Intarathong – a 55-year-old woman who is currently incarcerated in Belgium, the indictment alleged.
The indictment states the sex trafficking scheme has been operating since at least 2009.
Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Alex KhuÂ said they are committed to finding and rescuing all victims involved in this case. At a press conference on Wednesday, Khu encouraged any other victims still out there to callÂ 612-843-8801.
Authorities say they’ve identified hundreds of victims but “that number could very well grow.” Luger said while this is a huge step in the right direction, the investigation is far from over.
Authorities vowed that the demand side of the conspiracy wonâ€™t escape unscathed, with state and local law enforcement agencies targeting â€œjohnsâ€ through regular sting operations.
Those charged include:
— Sumalee Intarathong (aka: Joy), 55, of Liege, Belgium — who is known as the boss/main trafficker
— Chabaprai Boonluea, 42, Winder, Ga., house boss
— Watcharin Luamseejun, 46, house boss
— PantillaÂ Rodpholka, 31, Mount Prospect, Ill., house boss
— Noppawan Lerslurchachai, 35, Lomita, Calif., facilitator
— Khanong Intharathong, 44, Dunwoody, Ga., facilitator
— Andrew Flanigan, 51, Winder, Ga., facilitator
— Patcharaporn Saengkham, 41, Los Angeles, Calif., facilitator
— Supapon Sonprasit, 31, St. Paul, Minn., facilitator
— Thi Vu, 48, Atlanta, Ga., runner
— Todd Vassey, 54, Lahanina, Hawaii, runner
— John Zbracki, 59, Lakeville, Minn., runner
Meanwhile, In Bangkok the Deputy Commissioner General has confirmed that Thai nationals were involved in a United States human trafficking ring and that it would not affect Thailandâ€™s status on the United States human trafficking report.
Deputy Commissioner General Sriwara Rangsiphrammanakul disclosed that he had been told of the arrests of 12 Thai nationals and five Americans, charged with human trafficking in the United States.
He has instructed the International Affairs Division and the police’s special division to check and determine whether the ring is linked or associated with other individuals in Thailand.