Human trafficking has reached “a massive scale,” crossing international borders and involving loosely affiliated crime groups, making the prosecution of those involved difficult, according to testimony Wednesday before the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
“[I]t is not surprising that more and more organized criminal groups are engaging in human trafficking,” said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and commission chairman, pointing out that it is the third most-profitable criminal activity in the world.
Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Greg Andres, a former organized-crime prosecutor in New York, said human trafficking cases involve “loosely affiliated networks of individuals” who tend to use “smuggling pipelines and money laundering conduits operated by other criminal groups.” He said, on occasion, human traffickers belong to a larger organized crime group.
The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million people worldwide are victims of traffickers.
Mr. Andres also said there are “significant challenges” in trying to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes that cross international borders, adding that pursuing an investigation abroad “is often time consuming and the delays can be significant and undermine an investigation.”
Some investigative tools for gathering evidence are not always available overseas, such as wiretaps and undercover agents, he said, and the investigations often require the cooperation of foreign law enforcement agencies to help track down the criminals.
“We don’t always have the cooperation of the foreign governments,” Mr. Andres said “There is corruption in some of these places.”
In his testimony, Mr. Andres said the Justice Department successfully obtained a 12-year sentence in May for a Uzbekistan national for his role in a racketeering conspiracy that involved the recruitment and exploitation of dozens of workers from the Philippines, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic who were forced to work in hospitality jobs in 14 states under threat of deportation.
Eight other defendants were convicted in the scheme, including U.S. nationals.
Martina Vandenberg, an advocate for human trafficking victims, said corruption is “fundamental” to the success of the traffickers, noting that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, corrupt police officers participated directly in trafficking, getting payoffs in return for protecting the traffickers from raids.
Ms. Vandenberg, pro bono counsel for the Freedom Network USA, also said many trafficking victims in the United States don’t try to escape because they come from countries where corruption is widespread and believe that police and judges in this country have been bought.
She was critical of what she called the lack of trafficking prosecutions in the U.S. and around the world, calling the Justice Department’s 103 prosecutions involving 181 defendants in 2010 “appallingly low.”
Piero Bonadeo, a United Nations official, pointed out that while the majority of countries have criminalized human trafficking, the use of such laws to prosecute and convict traffickers “remains limited.” He said 40 percent of the countries in the world with trafficking laws have never recorded a single trafficking conviction.