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4 arrested under new Mass. human trafficking law

By Steve Leblanc

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 23 2012 4:33 p.m. MDT

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on Friday announced the first arrests under a new state law designed to crack down on human trafficking.

Coakley said the four arrests include a husband and wife and two other men. She said the four ran a business enterprise that transported women to the Boston area and profited from their sexual services.

She said some of the women were being sold repeatedly as part of "a sophisticated human trafficking organization."

"In this instance, these women were sold time and time again, sometimes up to 15 times a day," Coakley said.

Those arrested include Rafael Henriquez, 39, and his wife, Ramona Carpio Hernandez, 50, both of East Boston. Diego Suarez, 34, and Milton Lopez-Martinez, 26, were also arrested.

Coakley said Suarez and Lopez-Martinez were responsible for the daily operations of the organization, including supervising two primary locations in East Boston and Chelsea and transporting women to house calls from "johns."

All four face one count of trafficking in persons for sexual servitude.

The four have yet to be assigned lawyers. They are scheduled to be arraigned Monday in courts in Boston and Chelsea.

"Over a period of time, in the last four weeks, we believe that between two to three women a week, in total over 12 women — some locally, some from out of state — were brought to these locations in order to provide sexual trafficking," Coakley said.

She said it appears many of the women were trafficked throughout New England.

The investigation included electronic surveillance, according to Coakley, and was conducted with the help of state, local and federal law enforcement officials, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

Coakley said the investigation is ongoing.

The arrests are the first under the state's new human trafficking law, which was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick last fall and officially took effect on Feb. 19,

The law is designed to change the focus of police and prosecutors from targeting prostitutes to going after the men who pay for sex with them and the pimps who profit from the transactions.

The law establishes the state crime of human trafficking for sexual servitude, punishable by at least five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

It imposes a life sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking children for sex or forced labor and includes a safe harbor provision allowing prosecutors to look at first-time offenders under 18 as victims rather than criminals.

The bill is also designed to address the demand side of human trafficking by increasing the punishment on those who pay for sex.

Anyone convicted of soliciting a prostitute would face a prison sentence of up to 2 1/2 years and a fine of up to $5,000. Someone who agrees to pay for sex with anyone under 18 would face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

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