Apr. 22, 2011
BOSTON — A New York man is beginning 10 years behind bars in Rhode Island after pleading no contest to three counts of human trafficking earlier this month.
Twenty-three year olds Andy Fakhoury and Joseph Defeis enticed two young women from Yonkers to come to Providence with promises of jobs and love. Once the women arrived, they were forced into prostitution, according to the state attorney general’s office.
|Andy Fakhoury is serving 10 years in prison after pleading no contest to three counts of human trafficking.|
Fakhoury’s conviction marks the first successful prosecution of a human trafficking case since Rhode Island closed its infamous indoor prostitution loophole two years ago.
Detectives in Yonkers were already looking into the disappearance of a young middle-class woman when they received information that she was forced to prostitute herself on the Internet. Although the telephone number traced to her was a Massachusetts exchange, the woman was believed to be housed somewhere in Providence.
Lt. Mike Correa heads the Providence police Narcotics and organized crime bureau, and explained how his team found out what was happening on a Cragslist-type website called backpage.com.
“We had received some information that there was a potential human trafficking organization, we’ll call it for lack of a better word, in the city,” Correa said. “For ten days, we tried to initiate contact with the female that was listed on the Internet. Eventually we were successful and we were able to get a date with that female that was on the Internet.”
But it wasn’t easy getting the alleged victim to fall for the sting operation, says Lt. Correa.
“We were persistent, which paid off and eventually we did get a date with that girl. We sent an undercover in. He was, in fact, solicited by the female and then we went in to try to arrest her,” Correa said.
Correa said there was marijuana in plain view and that one of the suspects in the human trafficking case was present. They managed to find his roommate on the same day.
The quantity of drugs in the house was relatively insignificant, says Lt. Correa. But the arrest gave police access to someone potentially willing to testify against the two-suspected traffickers, which is often the most challenging aspect of prosecuting any human trafficking case.
The forced prostitution ring was run out of a house in this middle-class Providence neighborhood, near Providence College, surrounded by unsuspecting neighbors. The young victims could blend in in a town full of college students.
Why Fakhory and Defeis moved from Yonkers to Providence in 2008 in the first place had everything to do with a loophole in the state’s laws, say police.
Until January 2009, prostitution was allowed to operate legally — as long as it was indoors. Once the loophole was closed, some pimps closed shop and skipped town, but others like Defeis and Fakhourry continued business as usual.
They even flaunted their $1500 dollar per day enterprise that prosecutors say was derived on the backs of others. On summer nights, they could be spotted driving around town in a black souped-up SUV and blasting their own self-created theme music that celebrated thug life and pimping.
Eight months before their arrests in October of last year, Fakhoury and Defeis, operating under the pseudonyms’ Kash and Jemz, posted their rap video on You Tube.
The video shows an unidentified woman gyrating around a stripper pole as Fakhoury and Defeis count money and brag.
“She didn’t know it was this good,” they sing. “I get what I want, I don’t have to say a thing…”
And what about the known victims of the sex-trafficking ring? Two of four women, now in their early twenties, presented victim-impact statements to the court.
The woman from Yonkers, on whose testimony the police relied upon to make their initial case, was 17 when she was lured to Providence on the false promise of love and a waitressing job. Lt. Mike Correa says her life changed for the better the night she was arrested.
“After speaking with the Attorney general, it was decided that we would release the female that evening pending further investigation. That night, that very night we were able to have her reunited her with her family,” Correa said.
In a courthouse in Providence in early April, the woman in question was allowed to address her former captor, Andy Fakhory. Emotionally, she recounted five months of beatings, sexual abuse and forced addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Police say treating many prostitutes, especially minors, as trafficking victims, is an evolving sensibility.
“I think the police officers involved their eyes have been opened. We tend to be at times a little bit cynical and I think that it’s kinda opened our eyes a little bit as to just this kind of victimization that’s going on,” Correa said.
As for the two defendants, Fakhoury, has begun serving ten years at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions for three counts of human trafficking, with another 10 year suspended sentence.
Sources say he is cooperating with the prosecution against Defeis. To avoid federal prosecution, Defeis is also expected to plead guilty to most charges. If so, he will join his alleged partner in crime in the same prison sometime soon.
MORE: SEX AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN NEW ENGLAND