Four men have been sentenced to federal prison on sex trafficking charges after a two-year FBI sting operation.  The sentences for the men, all of whom pleaded guilty to either conspiracy or attempting to engage in trafficking, will be between five and 12 years. In what appears to be a truly bizarre set of circumstances, all four men outfitted their homes with various devices designed to confine a person, including chains, a soundproof booth, and others.

What is likewise bizarre is the way in which these cases unfolded.  This was not a case where sex trafficking was reported to law enforcement, which responded with arrests.  This was a sting operation, the legality of which is still being questioned in many quarters.  The operation actually began after agents became aware of a website purporting to advertise the sale of human beings from Malaysia.  At that point, federal agents began advertising a sex-slave auction, and the ads attracted men from across the country.  The sting included a warehouse in Phoenix, where the men were led to believe their “lots” were being held.

The FBI justifies the exercise be pointing out that it did not cost much money to pull off the sting – only about $10,000 – although it did involve a task force of police officers from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler.  An FBI spokesman went on to note that they are “horrified” at the dark nature of what was going on.  The FBI did not address another issue that jumps out from the page on this, i.e., that the entire operation was a fake.

Ok.  We get it.  We’re not going to begin to try to justify human trafficking, sexual or otherwise.  And the folks who got caught up in the sting appear to be some seriously disturbed inpiduals.  But let’s look at the other aspect of these cases.  When the FBI spokesman bemoaned the horrific practice of sex trafficking, he talked about victimization, and the tragedy that befalls victims of the sex trafficking business.  But the truth is that in these four cases, there were no victims.  In fact, even the website that spawned the sting in the first place – the one advertising humans for sale from Malaysia – turned out to be a sham as well!

Because of the seriousness and disgusting nature of the crime of human trafficking, these cases are easy to justify in the press.  Almost no one is going to come to the aid of folks suspected of this type of behavior, even those, like the four in these cases, who appear to have the desire to do so, even though they never got the chance.  On the other hand, we’d like to point out two things about the sting that bear some attention:

  • Using any common sense definition of the word “entrapment”, the term certainly applies here, whether or not it rises to the level of a legal defense in the case.
  • In a country where we are by far the world leader in prisoners, it is curious, at least, that the FBI is extending its reach to imprison not only people who have committed crimes against real people, but also to drum up additional business using an elaborate scam to nail people who might commit crimes if given the chance.

Just some food for thought.

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