08 Oct 2012
- By Geraldine Castillo - Variety News Staff
HAGÅTÑA — Modern day slavery continues to exist internationally in what is known as human trafficking; and for a small island, Guam has been tainted by this issue.In this year alone, federal prosecutors secured a successful life sentence against a lounge owner who forced young, immigrant women from Chuuk into prostitution, and are in the process of prosecuting a case against a former construction company owner who recruited, abused and under-paid foreign workers.
Guam was faced with two common forms of human trafficking: sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Hitting the headlines this year was the case surrounding the Blue House Karaoke which shut down in January 2008 after it was discovered that Chuukese women were being held hostage for prostitution under the control of lounge owner Song Ja Cha.
|Song Ja Cha|
The 71-year-old Cha was sentenced last month in federal court to life imprisonment after having been convicted of sex trafficking; conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; attempted sex trafficking; coercion and enticement to travel in interstate or foreign commerce for prostitution; and transportation of a minor for prostitution.
During sentencing, Judge Dean Pregerson stated that Cha’s acts were “not far removed from slavery.”
From 2004 to 2008, Cha recruited poor, young and uneducated women from Chuuk by promising them high-paying jobs. Yet when the women arrived, Cha stripped them of their passports and used a variety of means to compel the victims to engage in prostitution.
During trial in February 2011, victim testimonies revealed that Cha had forced the women to take birth control shots and threatened to have them arrested if they planned to escape by demonstrating her connections with police who frequented the lounge. The victims were forced to sell drinks and have sex with customers in VIP rooms while Cha pocketed the profits.
On the other end of the spectrum of human trafficking is the case surrounding a former construction company: Transrama Guam Inc., which also did business as “The Mechanic.”
Although no longer in business, company owner Ramachandran Vadivallo, aka Vicraama Sarada or Vic Rama, was indicted in federal court in late August on charges of mail fraud, visa fraud, money laundering, and fraud in foreign labor contracting. The case was sealed for two years until details of the investigation and raid in 2010 eventually surfaced, followed by the indictment.
According to court documents, Vadivallo recruited 10 alien workers from Malaysia and Indonesia. As they arrived on Guam, he instructed them to surrender their passports and international driver’s licenses.
Prior to the foreign workers’ arrivals, court documents indicated, Vadivallo would instruct them via conference calls on Skype on what to reply to immigrations officials when they arrived. Vadivallo told the recruits that their travel and visa expenses would be compensated; however, they were never paid.
Two of the Transrama H-2B workers assisted during the investigation, detailing Vadivallo’s recruitment scheme and wage and labor abuses. Federal agents learned that the foreign workers worked between 200 to 400 hours a month and received a salary ranging from $500 to less than $2,000 a month, working six days a week. According to court documents, one worker brought in from Indonesia was identified as the least paid, earning a flat rate of $500 a month.
It was revealed during an undercover video and audio recording by one of the workers that Vadivallo was in possession of the workers’ passports and at other times had verbally threatened and instructed the workers to lie to authorities if they were questioned about their work.
Although Vadivallo doesn’t face any trafficking charges, the case against him is one that vividly illustrates forced labor. He pleaded guilty to the charges filed against him and is set to face trial in Nov. 20.