15 June 2021

Fraudulent Inducement To Porn And Prostitution Is Now A Serious Crime

One of the basic lessons of first year law school criminal law is that sex between otherwise consenting adults induced by fraud, other than fraud concerning who the victim is actually having sex with, is not within the crime of rape, even though usually obtaining a desired end through fraud is a serious felony.

But, the crime of "human trafficking" is changing the rules by allowing serious punishment for fraud to induce a "commerical sex act" (i.e. pornography acting or prostitution), even when an adult is the victim of the fraud, which eliminates a lot of "gray area" conduct (like lying about a desire to marry or having a good job in order to secure non-commercial consensual sex):
On Monday, a federal court in California sentenced Girls Do Porn performer Ruben Andre Garcia to 20 years in jail. Garcia had previously pled guilty to federal counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, as part of the ongoing federal case against the company.

In 2019, Girls Do Porn owners were found guilty of intimidating and coercing 22 women into having sex on camera. Garcia and the other producers bullied the women and lied about how widely they’d distribute the videos. Garcia was the male performer in the majority of the videos, though his face never appeared on camera.

After telling the women that the videos would only be distributed abroad and to private collectors, they appeared on the Girls Do Porn website. The videos also reached millions of viewers after Girls Do Porn uploaded then to Pornhub and other porn tube sites, where women were often doxed in the comments. The doxing in turn led to the women being harassed at their jobs and schools. Multiple women said the harassment was so vicious, they've contemplated suicide.

Garcia’s sentencing took several hours to finish. More than 20 anonymous women gave impact testimony detailing how Garcia and Girls Do Porn had hurt them.

Girls Do Porn founders Michael Pratt, and associates Matthew Wolfe, Garcia, and Valerie Mosers were charged with federal counts of sex trafficking in November 2019. Pratt fled and is still at large. The FBI placed him on its Most Wanted List as is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Garcia originally pled not guilty to all charges but changed his plea to guilty in 2020. The FBI published a full account of his plea, which detailed Garcia’s admissions. According to the admission, Garcia and his co-conspirators blocked doors with furniture when women tried to leave. They also “threatened to sue them, cancel their flights home, or post the footage that was already filmed online, which, unbeknownst to the victims, was going to happen anyway.”

The U.S. Department of Justice press release regarding the guilty plea stated:

Adult film performer and producer Ruben Andre Garcia pleaded guilty in federal court today to sex trafficking charges, admitting that he conspired with the owners of the adult websites GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys to fraudulently coerce young women to appear in sex videos.

Garcia pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jill L. Burkhardt to Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion, and Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion. Garcia, the first of six defendants to plead guilty, admitted that he worked from 2013 to 2019 as a recruiter and adult film performer for GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys adult websites, which were run by co-defendants Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe. Both sites offered paid subscriptions and featured videos of young adult women appearing in their first pornographic video. The websites generated millions of dollars in revenue and the videos were viewed millions of times.

Garcia admitted in his plea agreement that in order to recruit victims to appear in the videos, he and his co-conspirators threatened, deceived and lied to them, promising that the videos would never be posted online, that “no one” would ever find out, and that the videos would never be released in the United States. In actuality, the co-conspirators were posting the videos on GirlsDoPorn, GirlsDoToys, and PornHub, one of the world’s most heavily-trafficked porn sites. Many of the victim videos were viewed millions of times.

Garcia also admitted that he recruited and paid other young women to act as “references” to falsely reassure reluctant victims that the videos would not be posted online and that there was “no way” anyone would find out. Garcia used young women as recruiters, because victims “were more likely to believe other young women.” The references were paid a fixed fee for every victim they attempted to recruit and additional compensation for victims who agreed to film a video.

Victims were recruited from throughout the United States and Canada. Once they arrived in San Diego, they were taken to local hotels or short term rental units where the videos were produced. The defendant and other co-conspirators continued to falsely assure the victims that the videos would not be posted online and that no one would find out. Garcia and other co-conspirators used aliases and companies with misleading names to ensure that the victims could not discover that they were behind GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys.

Before the video shoots, Garcia offered victims marijuana or alcohol and some drank or smoked with Garcia before filming. When some victims changed their minds about going forward or finishing the video shoots, Garcia and other co-conspirators threatened to sue them, cancel their flights home, or post the footage that was already filmed online, which, unbeknownst to the victims, was going to happen anyway.

Garcia admitted that victims were also misled about how long the video shoots lasted. Most were told that the video production would take around 30 minutes, when they typically lasted for several hours. Garcia admitted that the sex was rough and caused many victims pain, and, in some cases bleeding. When victims asked to stop filming, Garcia and other co-conspirators told the victims that they had to keep going and finish the videos.  Hotel room doors were often blocked by camera and recording equipment.

The GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys websites generated millions of dollars in revenue from this scheme. For his part, Garcia was paid a commission for each victim that he recruited on top of an hourly wage for his time. Garcia will be ordered to pay restitution in an amount to be determined by the court at sentencing.

“This defendant was a key player in a despicable fraud that has devastated the victims,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “We will continue to fight for justice for them, and to prevent others from becoming victims of these schemes.” Brewer commended the excellent work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Green and Alexandra F. Foster, as well as FBI agents and members of the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, on a case that resulted in tremendous pain for the victims.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner said, “The FBI is committed to investigating those who prey upon trusting women and girls, causing pain and humiliation for their own personal gain. Today’s guilty plea of Garcia is just a small victory in the ongoing battle with those who commit sex trafficking.”

Garcia is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino on March 5, 2021 at 9 a.m. The next hearing in the ongoing case is January 22, 2021 at 2:00 p.m.

Any additional victims of the alleged crime are encouraged to call the San Diego FBI at 858-320-1800.

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of Michael James Pratt. Individuals with information about Pratt should contact their local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. 

The charges were:
Count 1 (charging all defendants)

Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion, 18 U.S.C. § 1594(c)

Maximum Penalty: Life in prison, $250,000 fine, and a special assessment of $5,000 under 18 U.S.C. § 3014.

Count 2 (Pratt)

Production of Child Pornography, 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and (e)

Minimum penalty: Fifteen years in prison; Maximum penalty: 30 years in custody, $250,000 fine, and a special assessment of $5,000 under 18 U.S.C. § 3014.

Count 3 (Pratt)

Sex Trafficking of a Minor by Force, Fraud and Coercion, 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a)(1) and (2)

Minimum penalty: Fifteen years in prison; Maximum penalty: life in custody, $250,000 fine, and a special assessment of $5,000 under 18 U.S.C. § 3014.

Counts 4 (Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia), 5 (Pratt, Garcia), 6 (Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia), 7 (Pratt, Garcia, Gyi), 8 (Pratt, Garcia, Gyi)

Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion, 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) and (b)(1)

Minimum penalty: Fifteen years in prison; Maximum penalty: life in custody, $250,000 fine, and a special assessment of $5,000 under 18 U.S.C. § 3014.
The core statute (18 U.S.C. § 1591), enacted on October 28, 2000 and amended six times since then, states:
18 U.S. Code § 1591 - Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion

(a)Whoever knowingly—

(1) in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, advertises, maintains, patronizes, or solicits by any means a person; or

(2) benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in an act described in violation of paragraph (1),

knowing, or, except where the act constituting the violation of paragraph (1) is advertising, in reckless disregard of the fact, that means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion described in subsection (e)(2), or any combination of such means will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act, or that the person has not attained the age of 18 years and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).

(b)The punishment for an offense under subsection (a) is—

(1) if the offense was effected by means of force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion described in subsection (e)(2), or by any combination of such means, or if the person recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, advertised, patronized, or solicited had not attained the age of 14 years at the time of such offense, by a fine under this title and imprisonment for any term of years not less than 15 or for life; or

(2) if the offense was not so effected, and the person recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, advertised, patronized, or solicited had attained the age of 14 years but had not attained the age of 18 years at the time of such offense, by a fine under this title and imprisonment for not less than 10 years or for life.

(c) In a prosecution under subsection (a)(1) in which the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the person so recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, maintained, patronized, or solicited, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew, or recklessly disregarded the fact, that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.

(d) Whoever obstructs, attempts to obstruct, or in any way interferes with or prevents the enforcement of this section, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for a term not to exceed 25 years, or both.

(e)In this section:

(1) The term “abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process” means the use or threatened use of a law or legal process, whether administrative, civil, or criminal, in any manner or for any purpose for which the law was not designed, in order to exert pressure on another person to cause that person to take some action or refrain from taking some action.

(2)The term “coercion” means—

(A) threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person;

(B) any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or

(C) the abuse or threatened abuse of law or the legal process.

(3) The term “commercial sex act” means any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

(4) The term “participation in a venture” means knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a violation of subsection (a)(1).

(5) The term “serious harm” means any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious, under all the surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue performing commercial sexual activity in order to avoid incurring that harm.

(6) The term “venture” means any group of two or more individuals associated in fact, whether or not a legal entity. 

14 June 2021

Quote of The Day

[T]o a pretty good approximation, is that law enforcement is soon going be able to identify the perp in all cases where DNA evidence is available. Decades of unsolved rapes, assaults, and murders will be cleared up – in as little as a couple of years, if we make a serious effort.

Exceptions? DNA from your evil twin, and DNA from truly obscure groups with no representatives in the US. People will write murder mysteries featuring Andaman Islanders -they’ll have to.

We will not find that all or most prominent people have a criminal past (I think) – but quite a few will, undoubtedly including people you would never have guessed. It will even include people that I never suspected. Successful guys that rarely think about that perfectly understandable mistake that happened ever so many years ago will suddenly find themselves wearing orange jumpsuits.
- G. Cochran at West Hunter (June 12, 2021) (emphasis in the original).

There are definitely cases where the presence of DNA at a crime scene does not imply guilt. But it certainly makes a huge difference in narrowing down possibilities and causing a suspect to be considered seriously.