Bill authored by Yee may give cops more money to fight human trafficking

By Joshua Melvin
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 09/01/2009 06:01:08 PM PDT

A new law that should be ready for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature this week would allow state courts to seize human traffickers' assets and funnel the money raised by their sale to the local law enforcement agencies that work to shut the operations down.

The law targets people who have been convicted of human trafficking and would give courts the power to take away and sell any property, such as cars, planes and houses that the traffickers use in their activities, said state Sen. Leland Yee, who authored the bill. The courts would also be able to generate cash by imposing up to $25,000 in civil fines on the traffickers, he added.

"(The law) will bring much-needed resources to help fight human trafficking, while also ensuring victims receive the services they need to recover from this horrific crime," Yee said in a statement. "Between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States each year and enslaved for purposes of sexual or labor exploitation, and unfortunately many of the cases occur here in California."

While there are fines on the books for human trafficking and prison terms of up to eight years, there has been no rule governing asset seizure, according to Yee. Police can take assets from drug dealers and sell them, but anything taken from human traffickers has to be returned, Yee said, even when the perpetrators are convicted.

But as long as the Senate gives the bill a final, procedural go-ahead this
week and Schwarzenegger signs it, that will change. The Assembly passed the bill on Tuesday, while the Senate already voted in support of the law in June.

It's not clear how much money the law could generate, said Adam Keigwin, Yee's chief of staff. The amount raised would depend on how many traffickers are convicted and the wealth of their holdings. The trafficking business is a lucrative one, and even two houses in most San Francisco neighborhoods would be worth a lot of money, Keigwin noted.

"It could be millions," he said.

For local law enforcement officials, the promise of more money sounds good after years of cuts. But several of them said Tuesday they had not seen the particulars of the law and weren't sure how the money would get to them or if there would be strings attached.

"Any help that we can get is beneficial," said Detective Leslie Talley of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, who works in inspecting massage licensees. "It's just a question of when and how much." ... source=rss