Wyoming is the only state in the nation that does not have a law against human trafficking. House Bill 133, sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, would send a clear message to criminals engaged in this activity that Wyoming will not tolerate it, and they will be prosecuted by the state. House Bill 133 also provides services to victims of human trafficking and covers forced labor, which involves an employer who brings in foreign workers, then takes their passports and doesn’t give them back. The isolated workers then have no choice but to work for little or no pay.
There is ample evidence that human trafficking occurs in Wyoming. Connolly said a federal government hot line and a victim’s services hot line have received calls from Wyoming, and anti-domestic violence centers in the state have also helped victims of human trafficking.
The most high-profile human trafficking case in the state in recent years was uncovered in 2009, when a company called Giant Labor Solutions contracted with 18 Filipino nationals to work at hotels in Casper and Douglas. Authorities said the company allowed the workers’ visas to expire, causing them to become illegal aliens who were incapable of finding other work. According to a 45-count federal grand jury indictment against Giant Labor and other companies that operated the human trafficking ring in Wyoming and 13 other states, workers who complained about their treatment faced threats of physical violence or deportation. Because the Kansas City, Mo.-based ring operated in many states, the federal government prosecuted the 12 individual defendants. The ringleader, a Uzbek citizen, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
While it is helpful that human trafficking is a federal crime, the state should have its own laws against it, too. Not every instance of human trafficking will cross state lines or involve racketeering, and Wyoming should seek justice in its own cases within its borders. If the Legislature doesn’t pass HB133, traffickers looking for the best place to get away with their crimes could well be drawn to Wyoming.
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, an assistant Teton County attorney, told colleagues of one case in which a combination of state laws was used to get convictions of three men involved in the forced prostitution of a 12-year-old girl from Mexico. One of the men brought in the girl and set her up in a Jackson motel. Two other men then went on the streets to solicit customers who lined up outside the motel door to have sex with the child. The girl was raped almost nonstop over three weeks. Finally, the men were caught, prosecuted and convicted. However, the prosecution was difficult and required putting pieces of state law together in order to convict all three men, Gingery said.
“If you think it doesn’t happen in Wyoming, think again,” Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell said during debate on the bill.
Learn more at the Casper Star-Tribune article: Wyo should pass its own human trafficking law and Joan Barron’s Casper Star-Tribune article: Legislators: Human trafficking exists in Wyoming; legislation faces third reading in House.