North Texas hotels ignore sex trafficking,
exploitation of children, lawsuit says
Three national hotel chains are accused of being complicit in sex trafficking at hotels across the country including various ones in North Texas, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Dallas this week.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman identified as F.M. who says she was sexually exploited at North Texas hotels beginning when she was 4 years old. The woman is now in her 20s and lives in Tarrant County.
The lawsuit, filed by Houston-based Lanier Law Firm on Monday, includes Best Western, Hyatt and Red Lion hotels, and says that the companies ignored criminal activity occurring on their property and failed to protect victims of sex trafficking from exploitation.
“The hotel industry plays a crucial role in the sex trade,” said Lanier Law Firm founder Mark Lanier in a statement released Wednesday. “For too long, the industry has profited by looking the other way when sex trafficking has been happening right in front of them. We’re filing this lawsuit to get some justice for victims and to let these businesses know that their lack of action is unacceptable.”
In a statement Wednesday, BWH Hotel Group said, “Best Western International, Inc. condemns human trafficking. It is a despicable crime and the criminals who intentionally inflict this suffering on their victims should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Best Western supports the industry’s efforts to raise awareness and fight against this inhumane and horrific crime.
“While Best Western branded hotels are independently owned and operated, we require that each member hotel complies with all laws and treats all hotel guests consistent with our core values of integrity, honesty, and respect for others’ dignity,” the statement continued. “We provide information and training resources to member hotels on this serious issue such that hotels can educate their staff about how to recognize and report instances of trafficking.”
Officials at Red Lion and Hyatt could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The suit specifically names Best Western Plus DFW Airport Suites, Hyatt House Dallas/Frisco, Best Western Irving Inn & Suites at DFW Airport, and the America’s Best Value Inn Irving/Dallas.
Sex trafficking generates an estimated $99 billion each year, making it the second-largest illicit crime industry behind the sale of illegal drugs, according to the lawsuit. More than 60 percent of sex trafficking offenses occur in hotels, while eight out of 10 arrests for human trafficking occur in or around hotels, the lawsuit says.
VICTIM SAYS SHE WAS DRUGGED AND ASSAULTED FOR YEARS
In the lawsuit, F.M. gave this account of being exploited:
Her father, to sustain his drug addiction, sold her to traffickers in Irving for sex when she was 4.
She was given unidentified pills by her trafficker on average to five to 10 times each day, according to the lawsuit. Her traffickers would tie her and other children up and place them blindfolded in the back of a van.
When they arrived at a hotel, a hotel bellmen would be there to meet them and send them to assigned hotel rooms where buyers would be waiting for them, the lawsuit stated.
F.M. was bound, blindfolded and sent to rooms where “johns” were awaiting her and other children. She was then tied to a bed and sexually assaulted, according to the lawsuit.
From age 4 to 18, F.M. was trafficked to buyers for sex and abuse at the Best Western Plus DFW Airport Suites, the Best Western Irving Inn & Suites at DFW Airport in Irving and the Hyatt House Dallas/Frisco in Frisco, she said in the suit.
By the age of 20, F.M. was in the possession of her third trafficker and being trafficked at America’s Best Value Inn Irving/Dallas in Irving, the suit says.
She was advertised on Craigslist.com
At the age of 20, F.M. was hospitalized and could not work. Her trafficker punished her 2-year-old son by raping the child while F.M. watched, according to the lawsuit.
Her trafficker controlled her by making her dependent on methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.
A number of nationwide campaigns recognized trafficking in the hotel industry and several hotel companies took initiative to combat the problem, but the lawsuit says Best Western, Hyatt and Red Lion have repeatedly failed to thwart sexual exploitation at their hotels.
The lawsuit listed some indicators of sex trafficking at a hotel. They include:
An excess of condoms in rooms.
Individuals carrying large amounts of cash.
Renting two rooms next door to each other.
Declining room service for several hours.
Men traveling with multiple women who appear unrelated.
Guests checking in with little or no luggage.
Women known to be staying in rooms without leaving.
Hotel guests who prevent another individual from speaking for themselves.
The lawsuit listed more than 20 incidents of arrests and rescues of people and children in sex trafficking or exploitation cases at hotels operated by Red Lion, Hyatt and Best Western.
Army Secretary apologizes to military families living in dangerous housing conditions
The Pentagon – Secretary of the Army Mark Esper on Friday apologized to thousands of families living in dangerous conditions in military housing, which has long been maintained not by the military but by private contractors.
Families like that of Jana Wanner, who testified before Congress Wednesday.
“Mold was growing out of the wall of our shower,” Wanner said. “They told us, and this is a direct quote, let the mold just fall out.”
Other major problems: lead in the water, asbestos, leaking ceilings, roaches, mice and rats.
“I am infuriated by what I’m hearing today,” said Sen. Martha McSally. “This is disgusting.”
Esper said he wants to renegotiate contracts with property management companies to give tenants more power, including “a clear bill of rights for our families — for our soldiers and our families.”
“So they know what they can do what their rights are that they can bring to the chain of command if they feel that the contractors are not meeting their needs,” Esper said.
One change would hit those companies right where it hurts.
“If a family isn’t getting the service they want then I think they should have the ability to withhold their basic allowance for housing payments,” Esper said.
Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey worries contractors’ neglect could affect recruiting and mission success. If soldiers are worried about how their family is surviving in the U.S. with mold and rats, how can they do their job overseas?
“We need our soldiers focused on doing their job fighting and winning our nation’s wars,” Dailey said.
Wanner, whose family lives at Fort Meade in Maryland, is encouraged by the new focus on military housing conditions but worries if it will last.
“I don’t want the steam to be lost and I want to keep moving forward and I want that change made and I want families to be heard,” Wanner said.
Just four years ago, the Pentagon investigated military family housing and found “pervasive health and safety hazards” — but the conditions continued to fester. CBS News asked Esper if that might happen again, and he said no. This time, he vowed, “we’re going to get it right.”
AG Paxton Issues Consumer Alert on
Social Security Scam
AUSTIN, TX – Attorney General Ken Paxton today warned Texans to beware of calls from scam artists pretending to be with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and attempting to fool unsuspecting people into giving them their Social Security number and money.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received a large number of complaints from consumers targeted by the Social Security scam. Crooks tell the would-be victim that their Social Security number has been used in a crime and they must pay a fee to reactivate it or to get a new number. During the call, the person is asked to give out their Social Security number.
In other instances of the scam, individuals are told that their bank accounts have been seized and they should transfer their money to the caller for safe keeping, or that they could lose their Social Security benefits because their Social Security number was used to apply for credit cards.
Attorney General Paxton’s Consumer Protection Division reminds Texans that the Social Security Administration will never call and ask for a person’s Social Security number, request money, or threaten someone’s benefits. Be sure to follow these tips from the FTC:
Never give your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you. Don’t confirm the last 4 digits. And don’t give a bank account or credit card number to anybody who contacts you asking for it.
Don’t be fooled by caller ID showing the SSA’s real phone number (1-800-772-1213). Computers make it easy for scam artists to show any number on caller ID, a technique called spoofing.
Remember that anyone who calls and tells you to wire money, pay with a gift card or send cash is a scammer, no matter who they say they are.