After the Department of Homeland Security learned that Ernesto, Alberto and Israel Cortes Castro, were smuggling women from Mexico into the U.S. for forced prostitution, they were charged with conspiring to traffic women for prostitution by force or coercion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1594(c) and other substantive trafficking crimes. The Defendants plead guilty to the conspiring charge in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges. The factual proffer submitted with the plea agreements stated that the Defendants agreed to establish a sex-trafficking business in the U.S. in which women would be transported from Mexico and prostituted in exchange for money. It also detailed the methods employed by the Defendants to defraud, force and coerce women into prostitution. The district court accepted the plea agreements and sentenced the Defendants to 180 months of imprisonment, an upward variation from the 108-135 month range provided by the advisory guidelines. According to the district court, the upward variation was justified by the “unusually heinous, cruel, brutal and degrading” nature of their conduct. Additionally, the court ordered the Defendants to pay $1,239,200 in restitution losses to the victims. On appeal, the Defendants challenged the upward variation and the restitution award. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court had not abused its discretion by sentencing the Defendants to terms 45 months over the advisory guidelines range because they had “enslaved, demeaned and debased immigrant women” forcing them into prostitution for several years and subjecting them to mental, physical and emotional abuse. The Court further held that the district court reasonably determined that an upward variation was required to address the “abhorrent nature” of the crimes. Finally, the Court held that the district court did not err in granting the restitution award because the victims were statutorily entitled to compensation and such award was based on factual information in the factual proffer and the presentencing report.
Women and Justice: Court: Court of Appeals Eleventh District
Defendants Flanders and Callum engaged in a scheme to lure aspiring models to South Florida, drug them with Benzodiazepines, film them engaging in sexual acts and distribute the film for profit. The two were convicted on conspiracy charges and multiple counts of inducing women to engage in sex trafficking through fraud and benefitting from that scheme. The two were sentenced to a total imprisonment term of life, including sixty month terms for the conspiracy charge and life terms for each of the sex-trafficking charges to run consecutively to each other. On appeal Flanders challenged his conviction on sufficiency of the evidence grounds. He claimed the conspiracy conviction could not be sustained because there was insufficient evidence of an agreement between the Defendants or of an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. The Court held that evidence that Flanders represented himself as a Bacardi agent and a fictitious female employee of a modeling agency, together with evidence that Callum referred to the fictitious female employee and used phrases Flanders used to lure the models, was sufficient to establish an agreement amongst the Defendants to defraud the victims and constituted overt acts in furtherance of the agreement. Additionally, the Defendants challenged their convictions on double jeopardy grounds, claiming that convictions under 18 U.S.C. §1591(a)(1) and (a)(2) were multiplicitous. The Court held that Section 1591(a)(1) requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant was criminally responsible for the recruitment or enticement of a person with the knowledge that such person will be fraudulently induced to engage in a commercial sex act. By contrast, Section 1591(a)(2) only requires participation in a venture which has recruited a person for such purposes and that the defendant receive valuable benefit from his participation. Applying the Blockburger test, the Court held that the each subsection of the trafficking statute requires proof of different elements that the other does not and that convictions under each subsection do not result in a violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Defendant James Mozie ran prostitution ring from his house, commonly known as the Boom Boom Room by his customers. Mozie recruited vulnerable teenage girls by posing as a modeling agent, luring them to the Boom Boom Room, and forcing them to have sex with him and his customers. In 2011, law enforcement agents raided the Boom Boom Room and Mozie was subsequently charged with one count of conspiring to commit child sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1594(c), eight counts of child trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) and one count of producing child pornography in vilation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). The jury convicted Mozie of all ten counts and he was sentenced to the guideline-recommended sentence of life imprisonment. On appeal, Mozie claimed his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Mozie argued that the statute is facially unconstitutional because it allows the government to obtain a conviction without proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew his victim was a minor. The Court held that the statute is not unconstitutional because it requires the Government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim. If such element is proven, then the Government need only prove that the defendant recklessly disregarded that victims age. The Court explained that the Due Process clause does not prevent Congress from criminalizing reckless conduct, especially in the context of statutory rape and other measures to protect young children from sexual exploitation. Additionally, Mozie contended that his conviction should be reversed because his indictment was constructively amended by the district court. Mozie’s indictment alleged conjunctively that he knew and recklessly disregarded his victims’ age. The district court, however, instructed the jury that they could convict Mozie “if they found he either knew his victims were minor or recklessly disregarded the fact that they were minors.” The Court held that there was no constructive amendment of the indictment because when an indictment charges in the conjunctive, the jury instructions may properly be framed in the disjunctive.