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ICE agents paid for and received 17 sexual acts from ‘masseuses’ during human trafficking probe

Agents with the Department of Homeland Security (HSI) in Arizona coerced suspected human trafficking victims to perform sexual acts on them during a three-year investigation that later collapsed after the officers’ conduct became publicly known.

The investigation—dubbed ‘Operation Asian Touch’— saw federal agents pay for and receive at least 17 sexual acts from ‘Asian females’ working in eight different massage parlours in Mohave County, over a five-month period in 2018.

The sex-trafficking probe began in May 2016 after Havasu police received complaints that local massage parlors were offering erotic extras to their foot and back rub services. The HSI were called in by police in 2018 following suspicions the women might be victims of human-trafficking.

Internal ICE documents show the offices were given permission by their supervisors to go through with the sexual acts, research from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University suggests.

‘These girls were victimized again by the agency who was supposed to be protecting them,’ retired HSI senior agent Louie Garcia said.

Initially, Garcia said he was told, agency officials in Washington DC, ‘wanted heads to roll,’ but the issue quietly went away. The U.S. Attorney’s Office received a ‘brief’ call from ICE internal investigators but in the end, only a low-level supervisor was disciplined.

The investigation—dubbed ‘Operation Asian Touch’— saw federal agents pay for and receive at least 17 sexual acts from ‘Asian females’ working in eight different massage parlours in Mohave County, over a five-month period in 2018

Internal ICE documents show the offices were given permission by their supervisors to go through with the sexual acts, research from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University suggests

Internal ICE documents show the offices were given permission by their supervisors to go through with the sexual acts, research from the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University suggests

The case began unraveling in the fall of 2019 after defense attorneys obtained some of the evidence prosecutors planned to present.

Mike Wozniak, who briefly represented one of the alleged traffickers, recalled his shock listening to audio recordings from the investigation.

‘They talked about a handjob, and I believe I was hearing one take place,’ Wozniak said. ‘In every other case I´ve ever had, the undercover officer did not go through with the actual sexual act.’

Wozniak said he called the lead prosecutor to confirm what he was hearing, and she did. ‘I found it pretty repugnant that they were engaged in sexual acts with people that, under their theory, would have been the victims,’ Wozniak said.

Defense attorney Brad Rideout also clearly remembers first reading the HSI agents´ reports. ‘It was absolutely, morally problematic,’ he said.

Of those reports, instance after instance of an undercover federal agent telling a masseuse to ‘masturbate him’ is documented, Reason reported.

In one exchange, the woman told the officer a ‘handjob’ would cost $60. ‘How much for oral copulation?’ the agent asked in response.

She replied, ‘$120 for oral sex.’ The agent said he didn’t have enough money, so the woman lowered her price to $100. 

The agent then ‘asked her to take off her clothes.’ The woman countered again with a price of $120 for oral sex and nudity, and the deal was struck.

The woman put a condom on the agent and ‘attempted to perform oral sex,’ according to the report. He stopped her immediately, the officer said, pulled off the condom and told her to masturbate him instead.

‘The female placed oil on her hand and began to stroke the U.C.’s penis. After a few minutes, the female stopped and gave the U.C. a towel to clean himself,’ the report reads. 

Many of the reports include descriptions such as ‘the female was very skill with small breasts,’ or ‘the Asian female had black hair and was wearing a black skirt, black shirt, fishnet stockings and heels.’

Not all of the workers approached by ICE agents agreed to carry out the requested sexual act. However, the memos theorize that they decline because they were onto the officer’s identities, rather than just choosing not to do so, or not wanting to.

In total, nine people would go on to be arrested in the probe, including two women on prostitution charges after performing sex acts on the officers.

In total, nine people would go on to be arrested in the probe, including two women on prostitution charges after performing sex acts on the officers

In total, nine people would go on to be arrested in the probe, including two women on prostitution charges after performing sex acts on the officers

Money is seen spread across a massage table during a police raid on A Body Spa in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in September, 2018

Money is seen spread across a massage table during a police raid on A Body Spa in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in September, 2018

In reports, instance after instance of an undercover federal agent telling a masseuse to ‘masturbate him’ is documented. Many of the reports include descriptions such as ‘the female was very skill with small breasts,’ or ‘the Asian female had black hair and was wearing a black skirt, black shirt, fishnet stockings and heels'

In reports, instance after instance of an undercover federal agent telling a masseuse to ‘masturbate him’ is documented. Many of the reports include descriptions such as ‘the female was very skill with small breasts,’ or ‘the Asian female had black hair and was wearing a black skirt, black shirt, fishnet stockings and heels’

Police in Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City, near the border with California and Nevada where the investigation occurred, said they were told by HSI that undercover agents may engage in sex acts with suspects.

‘Detectives were informed by HSI that the undercover sexual activity was authorized,’ said Emily Fromelt, a Bullhead police spokeswoman.

It is illegal in Arizona, as in other states, for police to engage in sexual activity with subjects of an investigation, though HSI does not explicitly ban agents from doing so.

A leaked HSI policy handbook describes how, with supervisor approval, undercover agents can engage in ‘otherwise illegal’ activity. While it gives some hypotheticals, the handbook says nothing about undercover sex.

In September 2019, Rideout filed a court motion seeking the names and badge numbers of the HSI undercover agents – identified in reports only as ‘Arturo’ and ‘Sergio’ – so he could call them to testify.

‘It is unclear how an ICE officer having sexual relations with human trafficking victims in Mohave County, Arizona, protects the nation from terrorist attacks or secures the borders,’ Rideout wrote in his request.

The Mohave County Superior Court sided with Rideout and said Homeland Security should indeed have to turn over information about the two officers, adding that the pair could not be used as witnesses unless the court got their full names and addresses.

HSI responded by telling Mohave County police and prosecutors it would not be participating in the case any further.

Rideout, who represented two women in the Arizona case, wasn’t surprised. ‘Having sex with people they identify as victims is a crime in itself, and they´re not going to come on the stand and testify,’ he said. 

A note left by one of the masseuses for the officers is left behind at one of the parlors, reading: 'Hi men! I'm -- I'm going to buy something food. Maybe at 11:00am come back. See you later'

A note left by one of the masseuses for the officers is left behind at one of the parlors, reading: ‘Hi men! I’m — I’m going to buy something food. Maybe at 11:00am come back. See you later’

The probe began in May 2016 after Havasu police received complaints that local massage parlors were offering erotic extras to their foot and back rub services. The HSI were called in by police in 2018 following suspicions the women might be victims of human-trafficking

The probe began in May 2016 after Havasu police received complaints that local massage parlors were offering erotic extras to their foot and back rub services. The HSI were called in by police in 2018 following suspicions the women might be victims of human-trafficking

As consequence, in December 2019 the case collapsed. All felony charges against the alleged ringleaders Amanda Yamauchi, 46, and Dean Michael Bassett, 52, were dropped, in addition to the charges against the masseuses. Sex-trafficking experts say the women were likely re-traumatized by the actions of the officers. 

Of the nine people originally charged, only three pleaded guilty to attempted pandering, prostitution and solicitation – all before the HSI agents’ actions became publicly known.

Ultimately, the three-year operation yielded just three state misdemeanour convictions stemming from a single sexual encounter which authorities interrupted during a raid.

A 45-year-old woman was convicted of prostitution, resulting in 56 days in prison and a $600 fine; the man who paid her was convicted of solicitation; and the masseuse’s husband, who drove her to the parlor, accepted a plea deal on one charge of attempted pandering.

Rideout said he believes the agents´ behavior was not unprecedented.

‘In my experience in law enforcement, these types of things do not just happen in one spot.’ He sought to obtain HSI policy documents to see if there was a ‘pattern’ of behavior elsewhere, but his efforts were unsuccessful.

Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the Arizona case was yet another example of law enforcement not policing itself.

‘It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the law enforcement community collectively turns a blind eye when its members engage in misconduct,’ Neily said.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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