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Human trafficking convictions prove elusive

BOSTON — Laws cracking down on human trafficking are on the books in all 50 states, but convictions are notoriously elusive, and state prosecutors haven't come close to matching the success their federal counterparts have had in winning cases.

States need to add resources into support trafficking victims, educate the public and train law enforcement if the numbers of prosecutions and convictions are to improve, officials and experts say. In at least a dozen states, attorneys general are not even authorized to pursue human trafficking charges.

Records requested from all 50 states by The Associated Press indicate a low conviction rate since Washington became the first state to enact a human trafficking law in 2003. A previous study suggested a 45% conviction rate through roughly the first decade of the laws.

In contrast, the conviction rate for prosecutions under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted in 2000, is about 80%, according to Justice Department data.

"We're not fully where we need to be, but it's encouraging to see states pursue these cases," said Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, which lobbied for passage of the state laws. "Prosecutors are still learning how to prosecute these cases successfully. We're in the process of seeing the field mature more. It's going to take time."

Underscoring the difficulties is the misdemeanor case against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose attorneys May 13 succeeded in getting video evidence suppressed . The decision, if upheld, could force prosecutors to drop charges against Kraft and potentially others among the 300 men facing solicitation charges as part of a sweeping investigation of massage parlor prostitution and possible human trafficking in Florida.

Some spa owners and operators also face felony prostitution charges, but none of the defendants has been charged under the state's human trafficking law.

Some local officials point out that prosecutors do often win convictions on other, oftentimes lower charges that can still take suspected human traffickers off the street for a time, not unlike how murder charges are sometimes downgraded to manslaughter. The study that found a 45% conviction rate also found that 72% of human trafficking cases that were examined did lead to some sort of conviction.

In the Florida prostitution case, many of the spa operators are being prosecuted under the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which calls for the same maximum penalty, 30 years in prison, as for human trafficking.

That means prosecutors won't have to rely on the testimony of trafficking victims, which is frequently difficult to procure, in order to build their cases while still being able to pursue long sentences, said Jeffrey Hendriks, a prosecutor in Fort Pierce handling six of the felony cases.

"From a legal analysis, what's the loss? We want to try to put these people away for up to 30 years. Why rest your whole case on the victims?" Hendriks said. "I don't want to sound flip, but that's the analysis. It's just a better fit."

Most states aren't required to track prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking crimes.

The AP asked state attorneys general or other state agencies for tallies of human trafficking prosecutions, human trafficking convictions and convictions on other charges in their states since their local law was enacted. The AP also asked for how many cases resulted in no conviction or are still pending.

Five states did not respond. Of those that did, many supplied figures for one or some of the categories but not others, so full tallies and direct comparisons aren't possible. But the AP's review does suggest there have been many hundreds of prosecutions for human trafficking nationally, but relatively few convictions, let alone for human trafficking crimes.

At least 2,700 defendants nationwide have been charged since Washington state enacted the first law in 2003, the AP found. Only about 440 were convicted specifically of sex, labor, child or other trafficking crimes.

Nearly 500 others were convicted of lesser but related crimes, such as prostitution and drug charges. Nearly 300 others resulted in no conviction, either because of a not guilty verdict or because charges were dropped or dismissed, and more than 200 cases are pending.

Some states should consider giving their attorneys general authority to prosecute human trafficking cases, suggested Julie Dahlstrom, a law professor who heads Boston University's Immigrants' Rights & Human Trafficking Program.

State attorneys general in Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia told the AP they lack the authority to prosecute human trafficking cases, either because primary criminal prosecutorial powers lie with district and county attorneys or because state law doesn't specifically allow them to prosecute the crimes.

But even in states where the attorney general has prosecutorial powers, convictions are still low, the AP review suggests.

In Massachusetts, at least 216 people have been charged with human trafficking crimes under the state's 2011 law, but just 18 have been convicted of them, the AP found. About 50 others were convicted of other crimes, 70 weren't convicted at all, and about 80 have pending cases.

That's a conviction rate of just over 8%.

State Sen. Mark Montigny, a Democrat from New Bedford who has proposed changes to increase the success rate, has proposed requiring the state to provide training programs for local law enforcement agencies; launch a human trafficking public awareness campaign; compile an annual report of investigations and prosecutions statewide; and designate additional public money to trafficking survivor support services.

"Sadly, these numbers are not surprising," Montigny said. "Prosecutions and convictions are unlikely to increase unless and until we enact necessary reforms."

Employee's efforts to organize summer series pay off

BARBOURSVILLE — After more than two years of trying to promote his idea, one man's effort has drawn local outdoor experts to Field & Stream at the Huntington Mall each Saturday through the end of August.

Joe Jarrett, 65, has spearheaded the birth of a series of appearances from some of the state's most renowned outdoor experts intended to provide skills and information to the general public and avid outdoorsmen alike.

"I had been trying for two years to get Field & Stream to open up to the idea of presenting a series of outdoor experts that know a variety of different subjects in the field of conservation, hunting, fishing camping, that sort of thing."

Jarrett, a native of Milton, said he couldn't get an answer from the corporate office but kept pushing the concept until it grabbed the attention of Field & Stream General Manager Elena Thomas.

Field & Stream has just one location in West Virginia and 35 stores nationwide, but the Huntington store is the only known location to offer such a service. The store was opened in fall 2017 and was a welcome sight for outdoor enthusiasts such as Jarrett, who said the opening of the store was a tribute to how big outdoor recreation is in the region.

"I'm proud that the Huntington Tri-State area finally got what I'd call a large fitter for hunting and outdoor supplies. We'd never had that, and for that to happen was a big deal," Jarrett said. "I want to do anything I can do from my role with the store to provide for the community."

Before the mall location was opened, the closest Field & Stream stores were in Columbus, Ohio, or Crescent Springs, Kentucky – both of which are more than two hours away from Huntington. West Virginia is also home to two Cabela's stores, in Wheeling and in Charleston, which offer a similar line of products and services.

"We are the only (Field and Stream) store that I know of doing anything like this," Jarrett said. "I'm real appreciative of our management deciding to go ahead and give this a try. This is our second year, and it has grown from 14 groups last year to 20 this year."

Jarrett, a part-time employee, puts in the work to make the weekly appearances a possibility but doesn't expect anything in return.

"I'm a believer in stepping up, going the extra mile and doing things that are a little out of the ordinary. The beauty of this whole thing is that I'm not being paid to do this," Jarrett said. "I haven't been assigned it, but I asked for it."

Jarrett said he's hopeful that the idea will make its way to other stores nationwide and says it doesn't intend to rival what other stores like Cabela's do with similar events, but the goal is to complement them and keep people in the area interested in the outdoors.

It draws parallels to the annual hunting and fishing show in Charleston, except this, Jarrett said, is done on a much smaller scale and lends itself to more one-on-one discussions about specific topics.

"I think it puts Field and Stream's hat into the ring with everyone else on providing a venue where outdoorsmen can meet up with people they have read about or seen on TV or organizations they've heard about and considered joining, or maybe just learn more about a sport they might be interested in and haven't had the chance to pursue yet," Jarrett said.

It's all gone according to plan so far, too. The growth from year one to year two is enough to give Jarrett hope for the future. His efforts have been re-affirmed not only by local management but also the way the summer schedule fell into place.

Jarrett said there were as many as eight openings in the summer schedule less than three weeks ago, but within a week and half all spots were filled.

"I was a little concerned at first because 10 days ago, I had eight openings in the schedule. I knew who I had invited, but I had no idea who would or wouldn't be coming. You couldn't write the script any better, it's almost like it was supposed to happen."

Though not out of the realm of possibility, Jarrett said the series isn't likely to extend to a year-round schedule, and for good reason. Because outdoors-men are often actively engaged during the different hunting seasons in the area, there would be a lesser draw during months that lie within those months.

"We're really just trying to fill that void in the year where they might be a little less engaged with what's going on," Jarrett said. "It's a vision I've had for a long time, and it's fun to be a part of making the whole idea come to fruition."

This year's participants include:

June 1 - Forks of Robinson Hunting Club

June 8 - Fish Your A#% Off with Jim Sprouse

June 15 - Ducks Unlimited

June 22 - Ruffed Grouse Society

June 29 - Appalachian trophy TTV

July 6 - New River Bronzeback Adventures

July 13 - Boy Scouts of America

July 20 - Appalachian Range Outdoors

July 27 - WV Trappers Association

Aug. 3 - InRange Outdoors Aug. 10 - Heath Miles Taxidermy

Aug. 17 - WV Department of Natural Resources 'Archery in Schools"

Aug. 24 - Marshall University Bass Fishing

Aug. 31 - Jarrett Outdoor Endeavors

Center marks 40 years with new facility


HUNTINGTON – The Autism Services Center celebrated its 40 year anniversary with an open house Thursday at its new facility on West 6th Avenue.

ASC, founded in 1979, offers several services to people with autism and their families and caregivers, including residential facilities, respite services and applied behavioral analysis. The center recently moved from an 8,000-square-foot facility into a former bank building measuring up to 35,000 square feet.

"We now have room to grow, we have room to move," said CEO Jimmie Beirne.

Founder Ruth Sullivan, 95, was also honored at the ceremony. A portrait of her painted by local artist Sassa Wilkes was unveiled, and when the curtain came down, the crowd collectively expressed how much it captured her spirit. The reference photo was chosen by her son, Richard Sullivan, who wanted the portrait to portray her in action – it depicts her speaking at a podium.

"Well I did talk a lot, I guess," Ruth Sullivan said when she saw the painting, and the crowd erupted in laughter.

And it all started with Sullivan's son, Joseph.

"If God had to give me a handicapped child, it could not have been more wonderful and amazing than Joseph Sullivan," Ruth Sullivan said.

Autism Services Center started when Ruth Sullivan recognized services available to her son were few and far between. ASC began as Ruth Sullivan, at her kitchen table, focusing on advocacy and training, but soon identified the need for services.

As Beirne put it, "The branches of your work, Ruth, keep growing."

The organization now has more than 400 employees that serve people with autism.

In addition to founding ASC, Ruth Sullivan was the Autism Society of America's first elected president, has authored five books and 65 articles on autism, spoken in 10 countries on the subject and served as an autism consultant for the movie "Rain Man." Joseph Sullivan is one of three individuals Dustin Hoffman studied to develop his character. And, according to Ruth Sullivan, she convinced director Barry Levinson to have the world premiere for the film at the Keith-Albee.

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.