Saturday, January 20, 2007

5. Red Heart Massage

In September 2005, Edward C. Cabrera returned to Saipan with two women from the Philippines, who came in on tourist entry permits. Jenny Luo picked up the trio of arrivals in a taxicab with Ed Cabrera's name on the door. Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo took the women to Mr. Cabrera's business, the Red Heart Massage, gave each a room, and then brought men to them for sex.

One of the women came to Saipan believing she would work as a waitress, the other as a legitimate masseuse. Over the next few weeks, the women were usually kept locked in the room, with men brought to them for sex. When the women cried or begged to go back to the Philippines rather than do this "work," Jenny told them they owed Mr. Cabrera and the business and had to pay back their debts.

Eventually they escaped. On September 25, 2005, Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo were arrested and charged with assisting illegal entry, promoting prostitution and other similar charges.

They were not charged with aiding and abetting rape. There were not charged as sex traffickers. No charges of involuntary servitude were placed against them. All charges were made in the CNMI Superior Court and no federal charges were brought against either Edward Cabrera or Jenny Luo.

In August 2006, Judge Govendo found Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo guilty of most of the charges.

On Friday, January 19, 2007, I watched the attorneys for the government and the defendants argue their cases about the sentencing.

Kevin Lynch, Assistant Attorney General, spoke about the seriousness of the crimes and the harm to the victims and to the CNMI. He asked for the judge to make the sentences run concurrently--meaning one after the other, to lengthen the time in jail, because the statutory maximum for each count wasn't very high. He asked the court for more jail time(12 years) than recommended by the Probation report (3 to 5 years). Kevin also asked for a hefty fine and sanctions that included relinquishment and denial of business licenses to each.

Joseph Arriola and Robert Torres argued for their clients, Edward Cabrera and Jenny Luo respectively. Joey asked for probation, arguing primarily that Mr. Cabrera has a minor son who needs his attention. Judge Govendo said all criminal defendants with children could make this argument--what would that mean for enforcing the laws of the CNMI?

Rob asked for no greater sentence than the probation report recommendation. He sought leniency for his client, who had many years ago, also been a rape victim. His argument blamed the victims, the women tricked and forced into prostitution, because they had willingly come to Saipan as tourists hoping to work after they got here.

Kevin pointed out that Ms. Luo's victimization, while creating her own private pain, did not excuse her compliance with the laws of the CNMI. As he said, we all have our own private niches of pain, but our pain doesn't give us license to break the law. Ms. Luo, of all people, should have realized from her own experience how traumatic and victimized these two women would be by the forced prostitution, their repeated rapes.

Mr. Cabrera seemed scared at the sentencing. He was too choked up to speak when given an opportunity first.

Ms. Luo spoke instead, a lengthy diatribe in Chinese, translated quietly and professionally. The translation could not disguise Ms. Luo's lack of remorse--Ms. Luo said that she was trying to be a good wife to Mr. Cabrera. He had this business and she worked in it as the manager, did what he said. She saw nothing wrong with that. She openly blamed the women that she forced into prostitution and said that they cheated her, that she lost money on this whole venture, that all she wants to do is make a living, "survive."

When Mr. Cabrera was again given a chance to speak, after Ms. Luo, all he said was "sorry." As with all criminal defendants who apologize, it wasn't clear if he regretted his criminal conduct and immoral exploitation of people poorer and more desperate than himself, or if he just regretted getting caught.

I don't know what sentence Judge Govendo will give.

But I hope it's commensurate with the crime.

I think Mr. Edward Cabrera and Ms. Jenny Luo are slavers, creating / adding to female sexual slavery here in the CNMI. And I think we should all be outraged by their conduct.

Young women in the Philippines who mistakenly think they can come in as tourists and then get jobs violate our immigration laws with their tourist entries, but these actions are only illegal because of our laws, not because they are inherently wrong.

In contrast, Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo exploited and enslaved two young women for their own financial greed. Mr. Cabrera's and Ms. Luo's actions are morally repugnant.

I'm glad the CNMI finally caught and charged the employers who exploited these workers. I hope the CNMI and the U.S. will take a more active role in prosecuting any and all similar conduct.

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