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Major US hotel chains sued for failing to prevent sex trafficking in their rooms for decades

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US lawyers are suing 12 major hotel chains on behalf of women who claim the firms have profited from allowing sex trafficking and prostitution to take place in their properties.

In total, 13 women have accused hotel brands including Best Western and Hilton of failing to prevent sex trafficking from taking place in their rooms, alleging that the companies have made money from trafficked women and children being sexually exploited.

New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg has filed litigation in a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that brings together 13 separate lawsuits relating to hotels in a number of US cities, marking the first time the hospitality industry has faced such action.

Accusing the hotel firms of benefitting financially from the trafficking of women and children and “providing a marketplace for sex trafficking”, the suit alleges the companies have allowed sex trafficking to take place across their businesses for decades, and says it is time that they were held accountable for allowing the illicit trade to continue unchecked.

KOIN 6 News reports that one woman who claims she was forced by a pimp to sleep with as many as seven men every night is talking legal action against six hotel firms for the role they played in her abuse.

She is seeking $10 million in damages.

“Rather than taking timely and effective measures to thwart this epidemic, defendant hotels have instead chosen to ignore the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose,” the suit reads.

In a statement, Hilton Worldwide Holdings said: “Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT [formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking] Code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation.”

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts said: “We condemn human trafficking in any form.”

Back in January, Marriott announced that it had provided 500,000 of its staff members with training on how to spot the signs that a guest might be a victim of human trafficking, and what they should do in the event they are faced with such a scenario.

Speaking at the time, David Rodriguez, Chief Global Human Resources Officer at Marriott International, said: “Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime – and as a global hotel company that cares about human rights, we’re proud to be training hotel workers across the Marriott system to spot the signs.”

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PayPal agrees to flag suspicious transactions to US anti-trafficking NGO Polaris

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PayPal agrees to flag suspicious transactions

PayPal has agreed to share financial data with US anti-human trafficking organisation Polaris in a new initiative intended to help authorities identify and prosecute perpetrators of the crime.

The online payments giant has said it will flag suspicious transactions that could be linked to trafficking activity to Polaris’ new Financial Intelligence Unit, which will leverage information obtained by the organisation’s National Human Trafficking Hotline to identify traffickers’ cash flows and bring prosecutions for both financial crimes as well as exploitation.

Highlighting how financial institutions have long played a pivotal role in helping law enforcement agencies identify and disrupt human trafficking activity, Polaris said the new initiative will provide investigators with invaluable information that can be used to track new money laundering techniques used by traffickers, and track down perpetrators.

Polaris came up with the concept for the new unit after examining the roles of major private and public-sector systems and industries on the sex and labour trafficking ecosystems.

After reviewing the findings of its On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes report, the NGO determined that companies in the financial services industry, and firms in the fintech space in particular, were best placed to help those fighting human trafficking identify trafficker cash flows.

In a statement, Aaron Karczmer, Chief Risk Officer at PayPal, commented: “PayPal and Polaris coming together is a great example of private and non-profit entities joining forces to achieve a positive social impact that neither party could fully realize on their own.

“We look forward to advancing new, innovative approaches to combating human trafficking with partners like Polaris, who, like PayPal, strive to create meaningful change on this important issue.”

Applauding the announcement, Luis deBaca, who served as Director of the US Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, said: “Working with financial institutions to understand how traffickers use their services has the potential to dramatically shift the trafficking equation, making exploitation more risky and therefore less profitable.”

Last June, British bank HSBC launched a new range of banking services designed to help victims of human trafficking get their lives back on track.

A few months later in September, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that dozens of banks had signed up to a similar programme backed by the UN intended to help survivors whose financial identities had been hijacked by traffickers.

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US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach

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14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine

Customs officers in the US state of California have arrested a 14-year-old boy after discovering he had three bags of methamphetamine taped to his midriff under his clothing.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the boy was stopped at the State Route 94 checkpoint in a vehicle with three companions on Monday night.

After pulling over the car in which the four suspects were traveling, CBP officers searched the vehicle with the help of a sniffer dog, which gave its handlers a positive response, indicating there were drugs present.

Customs investigators then sent the vehicle and its four occupants for further inspection.

Agents conducting pat-downs on the four found three bags of suspected methamphetamine wrapped round the 14-year-old’s stomach before taking all of them inside the checkpoint.

In total, the packages taped to the boy’s torso were found to contain just over 1.5kgs of methamphetamine.

A more detailed search of the vehicle the four suspects were travelling in resulted in the discovery of three backpacks containing 49 plastic-wrapped packages in the back of the car that contained more than 23kgs of methamphetamine.

The drugs seized from the suspects and their vehicle had an estimated street value of some $102,000.

The driver of the car, who investigators identified as a 34-year-old male US citizen, was taken into custody with three juvenile males, including a 16-year-old US citizen and two Mexican nationals aged 14 and 16.

CBP said that its San Diego Sector has seized approximately 500kgs of methamphetamine since 1 October last year, which had a total estimated street value of $2,088,100.

In a statement, CBP said: “To prevent the illicit smuggling of humans, drugs, and other contraband, the US Border Patrol maintains a high level of vigilance on corridors of egress away from our nation’s borders.”

In a separate seizure last Friday, Californian customs workers took a man into custody after finding more than 90 packages of methamphetamine stashed in various parts of his car.

After flagging the man down in his Green Ford Explorer on Interstate 15 near Temecula, a border agent engaged him in conversation while a sniffer dog gave the vehicle the once over.

When the dog signalled that drugs were likely in the car, investigators conducted a detailed search, finding 96 packages containing nearly 46kgs of methamphetamine estimated to be worth some $191,900.

San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison commented: “I am very proud of the dedication displayed by these agents.

“They are committed to protecting America and keeping dangerous narcotics like these from reaching our communities.”

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British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and cancer drugs to organised criminals

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British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers

A crooked British pharmacist has been handed a 28-month jail sentence after being convicted of supplying controlled drugs with an estimated street value of almost £280,500 ($366,557) to members of an organised crime network.

Jaspar Ojela, 56, from West Bromwich, purchased controlled opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and medications intended for the treatment of cancer from drug wholesalers in 2016 before selling them on to his underworld contacts.

Ojela pleaded guilty to supplying the drugs during a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court after he was caught in a successful operation conducted by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medication and medical devices in Britain.

The agency said cancer drugs are valuable to organised crime gangs as they are taken illicitly by bodybuilders to counteract the unwanted effects of other hormone medications.

An investigation was launched into Ojela after inspectors noticed that his pharmacy was buying suspiciously large quantities of controlled drugs that are popular on the black market, such as Diazepam, Zolpidem and Zopiclone.

Investigators were able to establish that Ojela illegally sold more than 200,000 doses of these drugs to his criminal contacts between February and September 2016.

When brought in by police for questioning, Ojela admitted that he had bought the medication with the intention of selling it on to organised criminals, and that he did so while knowing that he did not hold the necessary MHRA and Home Office licences.

Ojela’s defence barrister told the court he made less than £2,000 from the conspiracy and that he was at a “low ebb” when he agreed to participate in it.

The court was told that Ojela sold his criminal associates 213,000 pills for a total of just £5,600.

As well as pursuing his prosecution and jailing, the MHRA is also seeking to recover the proceeds of Ojela’s crimes, while the General Pharmaceutical Council is pursuing disciplinary proceedings against him.

In a statement, Mark Jackson, MHRA Head of Enforcement, commented: “It is a serious criminal offence to sell controlled drugs which are also prescription only medicines without a prescription.

“We work relentlessly with regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved.

“Those who sell medicines illegally are exploiting vulnerable people and have no regard for their health. Prescription-only medicines are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision.”

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