Thousands of people fall victim to human trafficking schemes to bring them into the U.S. each year – mostly women and children.
Some are tricked by people they trust and believe that they are being brought to America for a better life. Others are flat-out kidnapped. However their stories begin, they end up the same – forced into sex work, prostitution, and other forms of criminal activity. Essentially, they are brought here to become slaves.
Florida is far from immune to this problem. In fact, federal data ranks Miami as one of the top three cities in the nation for human trafficking. Dig just a tiny bit and you’ll uncover lots of stories like the one that got Jeffrey Cooper convicted.
Man Convicted of Sex Trafficking, Faces Life in Prison
According to authorities, in 2011 Cooper was using the State Department’s Summer Work Travel Program to recruit students from Kazakhstan into the sex trafficking trade. Cooper told the students he would give them jobs at a yoga studio in Miami Beach when they arrived in America. When the students reached Miami, however, they found out that the yoga studio didn’t exist and they were actually going to be working as prostitutes in Cooper’s “erotic massage enterprise.”
Customers were “offered” the students from Kazakhstan from June 2011 until August 2011, when federal law enforcement officials recovered the students and disbanded Cooper’s enterprise. In May of 2016, Cooper was indicted in front of a Federal Grand Jury. He alleged that he had no knowledge of the crimes and pled not guilty.
In late November, after a four-day trial, he was convicted on 11 counts of sex trafficking, fraud, and other related charges. He will be sentenced for his crimes in February 2017, and currently faces up to life in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
Florida’s Efforts to Catch Sex Traffickers
Cooper’s story shed a light on just how simple it is for criminals to force young adults into a life of prostitution for personal gain. His story, though, is only one of many in our state.
In fact, there were over 400 reported cases of human trafficking in Florida between January and September of this year alone. Moreover, as mentioned above, Miami is not the only popular place for traffickers.
Experts believe that with busy interstates and an economy centered on tourism, Pensacola is another possible hot spot for human trafficking. At least five men were arrested or convicted for human trafficking throughout Pensacola in the past year, and Pensacola officers want to crack down on even more criminals.
This year, the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice paired up to organize a human trafficking task force. The task force contains members from Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties, but they are looking at illegal activities occurring across the entire state.
They believe that human trafficking crimes are “modern slavery,” and care determined to enlist the help of government, law enforcement, and community leaders to end these crimes. Some of their objectives include raising awareness and educating people in the state about what human trafficking is and how to identify it, as well as creating safe networks for victims to get the resources they need to get out of the trafficking trade and into a safe environment.
What This Could Mean For You
In 2012, Florida lawmakers unanimously voted to increase the maximum penalties for human trafficking and related charges. Instead of 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence is now 30 years for human trafficking. For human smuggling (which does not involve the act of exploiting another human for personal gain), the maximum sentence increased from one to five years in prison. Multiple counts of trafficking or smuggling can end up in a life sentence in Florida.
It is also possible that you could be sent to federal court for human trafficking charges, especially if the victims cross state or national lines. Federal penalties can also result in life imprisonment. The difference is that you will be sent to federal incarceration facilities rather than those run by the state.
With big cases getting more coverage and the creation of a task force focused solely on human trafficking, the state appears to be entering a period of high alert. Unfortunately, a common side effect of actively targeting certain types of crime and criminals is that law enforcement officers may see offenses where none exist or cut corners to make arrests.
Don’t let your rights get trampled in the rush to stamp out human trafficking. If you learn that you are under investigation or have been charged, reach out to a knowledgeable Florida defense attorney as soon as possible. Together, you can start crafting the strongest possible defense.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.