A key member of a massive Thailand-based sex trafficking conspiracy pleaded guilty on Tuesday to helping obtain fraudulent visas for victims sent to Minnesota and elsewhere in a case first charged in 2016.
Sumalee Intarathong, also known as Alice Spencer Warren, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering – more than a year after being extradited of Belgium to face charges.
According to Intarathong’s plea agreement filed Tuesday, she was described as acting largely as a “visa application broker” for the organization. She and more than three dozen others were first charged in 2016 in an international investigation dubbed “Bangkok Dark Nights”.
Prosecutors called the case an example of “modern sexual slavery” and five of the defendants were convicted after a six-week trial in 2018. Others have pleaded guilty since being charged. Law enforcement once believed that Intarathong was one of the “big bosses” of the organization. But in Tuesday’s plea agreement, federal prosecutors and Intarathong have now agreed that was not the case.
“By pleading guilty today, Ms. Intarathong has taken responsibility for her role in this conspiracy,” Aaron Morrison, Intarathong’s attorney, said in a statement on Tuesday. “She looks forward to the opportunity to address the court at sentencing.”
According to Intarathong’s plea agreement, the “large-scale international sex trafficking organization” she participated in dates back to at least 2009. Thai women were forced to travel to the United States to engage in commercial sex acts, and co-conspirators engaged in “widespread visa fraud” to bring in victims from overseas.
In Minnesota and other states, victims were held in “brothels”, which included apartments, houses, and/or hotels. The victims were forced into prostitution to pay off “bondage debts” of between $40,000 and $60,000, which “far exceeded” the actual expenses incurred by their traffickers. The network targeted victims from disadvantaged backgrounds and deployed threats to force them to repay their debts.
“Until they repaid their bondage debt, the victims were effectively ‘possessed’ and controlled by the organization,” according to the plea agreement.
Intarathong studied and earned degrees in industrial design and communications before coming to the United States, and her studies took her to Vienna and London, where prosecutors say she developed skills and experience to run a successful travel business. She became involved in the sex trafficking organization through connections in the UK, according to her plea deal.
While in Thailand, she met people who asked her for help in preparing victims’ visa applications to enter the UK and the US. This included a woman known as “M” and a man known as “Tu”, described as the leaders of a large sex trafficking organization. Investigators once believed that Intarathong was the leader known as “M”.
Intarathong entered the United States in 2009 from San Francisco on a B1/B2 visitor visa with co-defendant Chabaprai Boonluea, whom the organization had trafficked into the United States to engage in the sex trade. She also arrived with Boonluea’s “husband” from a fake marriage and the Thai trafficker known as “Tu”.
Intarathong was later returned to Thailand and barred from returning to the United States after an interview with Customs and Border Protection while attempting to re-enter the United States in July 2011. Upon returning to Thailand, she continued to aiding the trafficking conspiracy by recruiting and preparing fraudulent visa applications for women sent to the United States and Belgium.
Intarathong was first charged in a criminal complaint in July 2016, and she was taken into police custody the following month in Liège, Belgium. She was charged in September 2016 and officially extradited in February 2021.
Intarathong admitted on Tuesday that the sex trafficking ring engaged in money laundering by transferring the illegal proceeds from the United States to Thailand and ordering the victims to do the same.
“Although the defendant did not itself employ any sophisticated means, the defendant admits that the transactions were designed in whole and in part to conceal or disguise the nature, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of the conduct illegal specified”, the middle agreement reads.
According to the plea agreement, Intarathong’s calculated indicative sentence range is between 19 and 24 years in prison. Senior Judge Donovan Frank has yet to set a sentencing date.
Intarathong plans to ask Frank to reduce her sentence by approximately 4½ years to reflect the time she spent in detention in Belgium between August 2016 and February 2021. Prosecutors have said they will defer to Frank on request.
Under the plea agreement, federal prosecutors plan to seek that Intarathong be sentenced to 10 years in prison, citing sentences already handed down in the case.
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