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.
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.