ST. PAUL - Federal prosecutors in Minnesota have charged 17 people who allegedly were part of an international sex trafficking organization that brought hundreds of sex slaves from Thailand and trafficked them throughout the United States.
Two Minnesotans are among the people charged.
“The 17 people charged in this indictment ran a highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme,” said Andrew Luger, U.S. attorney for Minnesota, on Wednesday, Oct. 5. “They promised women in Thailand a chance at the American dream, but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare. In short, the victims lived like modern-day slaves.”
The indictment, which was unsealed late Tuesday in federal court in St. Paul, alleges that since at least 2009 the criminal organization trafficked at least hundreds of women, which the group referred to as “flowers.” They were brought from Bangkok, Thailand, to cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas and Austin.
Victims were placed in “houses of prostitution” where they were forced to work long hours and to have sex with strangers, Luger said. They were not allowed to leave unless accompanied by people from the sex trafficking organization.
Twelve of the people charged are Thai nationals and five are U.S. citizens. Eleven of the 17 charged were arrested Tuesday in Minnesota, California, Illinois, Georgia and Hawaii. One was previously arrested in Belgium and four remain at large, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The arrested include the Belgium leader, and "various runners" and house bosses.
The two Minnesotans arrested:
Supapon Sonprasit, 31, of St. Paul. Charged with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, Sonsprasit is accused of being a facilitator in the operation.
John Zbracki, 59, of Lakeville. Accused of being a runner in the operation, he faces charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, transportation to engage in prostitution, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.
Others arrested come from across the country, from Hawaii to Georgia.
“As this operation clearly shows, human trafficking - in this case the trafficking of vulnerable Thai women for sex - knows no boundaries,” said Sgt. Sean Johnson, an investigator with the St. Paul Police Department Human Trafficking Unit.