Faith bodies being used in human trafficking

Date: 
Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 23:30

Faith-based or­gan­i­sa­tions and oth­er agen­cies are us­ing their le­git­i­mate fronts across the world to con­duct il­lic­it ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing.

That was the rev­e­la­tion made by for­mer Fed­er­al Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (FBI) agent Robert Clark, who spoke via Skype at yes­ter­day’s week­ly po­lice brief­ing con­fer­ence as he gave con­text to the po­lice raid at the Trans­formed Life Min­istry Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre—in which 69 peo­ple were res­cued, some found in cages—last Wednes­day.

Clark, who worked for sev­er­al years across the world in­ves­ti­gat­ing dif­fer­ent forms of hu­man traf­fick­ing said, “What we have seen in Trinidad and To­ba­go over the last few weeks is not un­like what we are see­ing glob­al­ly. There are a mul­ti­tude of or­gan­i­sa­tions that use what ap­pears to be le­git­i­mate busi­ness­es or faith-based or­gan­i­sa­tions or res­cue or­gan­i­sa­tions to fa­cil­i­tate hu­man traf­fick­ing every day. There are new sto­ries that we read and hear about new cas­es that are very sim­i­lar to what we have seen in Trinidad and To­ba­go.”

Clark said un­like guns and drugs that are seized and gone, hu­man traf­fick­ing was re­plen­ish­able and hu­mans were used over and over.

Al­so speak­ing via Skype, Stephany Pow­ell, who was al­so a US law en­force­ment of­fi­cer in the Los An­ge­les Po­lice De­part­ment (LAPD) and is now the head of an NGO or­gan­i­sa­tion Jour­ney Out, which is re­spon­si­ble for res­cu­ing over 1,000 hu­man traf­fick­ing vic­tims, said over the years they have no­ticed a spe­cif­ic pat­tern.

“It is hid­ing in plain sight and traf­fick­ers will prey on the vul­ner­a­ble and in this case from what I read, cer­tain­ly these peo­ple were at risk when they en­tered this fa­cil­i­ty,” Pow­ell said.

Pow­ell said there were many ways hu­man traf­fick­ing can be masked.

“A lot of times, when it comes to law en­force­ment, it is be­ing able to iden­ti­fy hu­man traf­fick­ing when it does not present it­self as such. It might be hid­ing in the shad­ows, a mur­der case or gang ac­tiv­i­ty or drug ac­tiv­i­ty and most im­por­tant­ly, it is not on­ly in­ter­na­tion­al but na­tion­al as well.”

Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith said he was dis­ap­point­ed that cer­tain me­dia hous­es (not Guardian Me­dia) and oth­er en­ti­ties would turn a blind eye to wrong­do­ing.

“It is un­for­tu­nate that some have tried to jus­ti­fy, triv­i­alise or le­git­imise what was seen. Some stat­ed it is be­cause these in­di­vid­u­als have nowhere to go. You do not jus­ti­fy do­ing some­thing wrong to get some­thing right that is not car­ing,” Grif­fith said.

“This is not a (sic) Ba­nana Re­pub­lic. We have seen a sit­u­a­tion where some­thing may be wrong and the job of the Trinidad and To­ba­go Po­lice Ser­vice is to en­sure that the law is en­forced.”

ACP Forde, when ques­tioned about the sta­tus of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said they were still in the process of in­ter­view­ing the 69 peo­ple. How­ev­er, he said the po­lice were ex­er­cis­ing due dili­gence in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We have an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion with a lot of mov­ing parts and we want to get it right. We are con­fer­ring with the DPP, we have a team that has been as­signed to con­duct this in­ves­ti­ga­tion and as soon as we have enough that we can share with you all we will share with you all. We are mov­ing as­sid­u­ous­ly to charge any­one who is cul­pa­ble for this hideous act,” Forde said.

Guardian Me­dia was al­so in­formed that the two vic­tims who first sparked the in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter com­ing to this me­dia house are now in pro­tec­tive cus­tody. Grif­fith said this was done be­cause of the key in­for­ma­tion they have pro­vid­ed.

Among the charges that po­lice are pos­si­bly look­ing at in re­la­tion to this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to Grif­fith, are false im­pris­on­ment, com­mon as­sault, vi­o­la­tions of the Men­tal Health Act and fraud.

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Story by: MARK BASSANT

Image by: NICOLE DRAYTON

Image caption: ACP Jason Forde addresses members of the media during a press conference at the Police Administration Building in Port-of-Spain yesterday.

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