Entries in Human Trafficking (5)


Tattoo Artist Helps Ex-Gang Members Erase Past for Free

ABC News/McKenzie Baker(OSWEGO, Ill.) -- Second chances can be hard to come by, but Chris Baker, 42, a tattoo artist in Oswego, Ill., gives them away for free.

Since 2011, Baker, who is also a youth pastor, has created more than 500 free tattoos for former gang members and victims of human trafficking eager to remove or cover up the visible evidence of their past. Big city human trafficking networks are often run by gang members, who tattoo their victims with barcodes, pimps’ names or gang symbols to track them and make it almost impossible for them to escape.

“It’s my way of giving back to the community that’s given me so much,” Baker told, in explaining his service. “I just decided to do something positive, and to show people that people can change.”

Baker founded INK 180, a nonprofit organization that he funds with money he earns from his regular tattooing business and through donations. The name symbolizes the degree of change he hopes for in the lives of those he tattoos.

Baker has worked with former members of the Latin Kings, Black Disciples and Aryan Nation, explaining that the tattoos are like a rite of passage for initiated gang members.

It was during one of his youth group meetings that Baker realized he wanted to help these people, whose efforts to change and progress were often halted by the markings of their past.

Once a warehouse manager, Baker said that many of his employees had belonged to gangs, and they often compared their tattoos to Baker’s religious ones.

“They would say, ‘I wish I could get rid of my tattoos.  I’m tired of getting judged,’” Baker recalled. “And I decided, ‘That’s my calling.’”

For two years, Baker has worked with local, state and federal authorities to offer his services to former gang members who had difficulty finding jobs, or who were living in secrecy from gangs that they had left.

A member of his church who works with the Department of Homeland Security brought Baker’s attention to victims of human trafficking –  pointing out that by covering up or removing their tattoos, Baker could make it much harder for their captors find them.

The gang members who come on their own, or the women who have escaped sex trafficking rings and arrive with law enforcement protection, open up to Baker as he listens to them describe what they’ve done and what they want to do.

“These guys will say, ‘Yeah, it hurts,’ but it’s almost like penance for them. It’s representative of the pain they caused others, and they don’t want to cause anymore,” Baker said.

Baker leaves the type of tattoo up to his customers. “No matter the design, I just love being able to take away the visible reminders of their past and give them something beautiful to remind them of their future,” said Baker.

“There was one guy from Kansas City who had gotten out of prison,” Baker recalled. “We did a cover-up of a tattoo for him and found out he was an artist. He’s now working as an artist for a greeting card company.”

The Oswego village board recently approved Baker’s special use permit, and in a few weeks, he will have a more permanent home for INK 180, after previously renting spaces. It’ll be one of the few tattoo shops in the United States with a prayer wall and an information center for other nonprofit ministries in the area.

“People always ask me why I do this for free,” Baker said. “The stories I hear make it worth it.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Jada Pinkett Smith Shines Light on Human Trafficking, Slavery

Paul Morigi/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- Wearing a white t-shirt that declared ‘Free Slaves’ beneath a brown blazer, actress Jada Pinkett Smith testified before Congress today to draw attention to human-trafficking and forced labor, not only in the U.S., but around the world.

“This old monster is still with us,” Pinkett Smith told the Senate committee on Foreign Relations. “This is an ugly, and too often invisible, problem.”

Various estimates indicate that between 21 million and 27 million people are currently enslaved around the world, including an approximation of 40,000 victims in the United States.

“Fighting slavery doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she said. “The costs of allowing it to exist in our nation and abroad are much higher. It robs us of the thing we value most – our freedom. We know what that freedom is worth.”

Pinkett Smith said she became interested in the issue after her daughter, Willow, brought to her attention the Kony 2012 YouTube documentary about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and African children forced into sexual slavery or used as soldiers.

Pinkett Smith was accompanied on Capitol Hill by her husband, actor Will Smith, and their daughter. She also brought along three trafficking survivors to help underscore the gravity of the issue and press Congress for more action.

“We need more adequate funding for programs that can actually, first, protect young women and men who are victims of trafficking and then also the programs that help transition our young people from those traumas into being able to create and develop lives so that they're not only survivors but they are thriving,” Pinkett Smith said. “These young ladies that are here with us today are young women who are not just surviving but they're thriving.”

The survivors did not testify, but stood to be acknowledged during the hearing.

“It is so important for people to be able to see real people that this affected and whose lives were turned completely upside down but who have turned their lives back,” Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the committee, said at the hearing. “Until I came to the Senate and began to learn about this [by working on] this committee, I had no idea that these kinds of things were happening right here in our own country.”

While Congress has authorized legislation, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, multiple times over the past dozen years to combat human trafficking, future funding has yet to be appropriated.

“It's disturbing, obviously, that there are as many people, that it's probably grown, not diminished, even though we've made progress in certain places,” Kerry, D-Mass., added. “There has to be a much more concentrated global effort on this.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman, 85, Jailed as Smuggling Leader

Kevin Horan/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- An 85-year-old ringleader of an extensive migrant smuggling operation in southern California has been sentenced to 30 months in prison.

U.S. Attorneys in San Diego said Thursday that Felicitas Gurrola de Mason, of Chula Vista, was the leader of a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of illegal immigrants into the U.S. using fake documents.

Daniel Zipp, one of the U.S. attorneys who investigated the case, said that Gurrola, a.k.a. "Dona Fey," had been indicted in 1982 for the same crime, but escaped arrest. Authorities believed that she escaped to Mexico, but later re-entered the U.S. and began the smuggling operation again.

Gurrola's daughter, Hilda, and nine other defendants were also involved in the ring, according to the indictment. The group would charge foreigners $3,500 for the border crossing, which included putting individuals up in hotels, choosing from a library of fake visas, foreign identification documents, and U.S. identification documents, access to wigs and makeup artists to shape disguises, and transportation to a city north of the border to collect payment.

Immigration agents received a tip about Gurrola's ring and then proceeded to tap her phones before planting an undercover agent among a group of migrants trying to cross the border, Zipp said.

In all, authorities identified at least 100 border crossings that Gurrola organized, bringing in more than $350,000.

Gurrola and her daughter pleaded guilty to 13 charges, including bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting. They were both sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, in addition to paying the government $20,000 and turning over their cars and Hilda Gurrola's home in Chula Vista, Zipp said.

Gurrola has been in custody since her arrest.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Three Arizona Cops Arrested for Human, Drug Smuggling

John Moore/Getty Images(MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz.) -- Three cops under the command of "America's toughest sheriff," including a deputy in the human smuggling unit, have been arrested in Arizona and charged with trafficking in humans and drugs.

Deputy Alfredo Navarrette and two female prison guards were arrested following a year-long sting that netted nine other people in a suspected criminal ring.

"Unfortunately we had a deputy and two officers that became involved in an international drug and illegal immigration operation," Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial head of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, told

Arpaio bills himself as "America's toughest sheriff" for his no-nonsense handling of inmates and for his zero tolerance of illegal immigrants.

Navarrette, 37, who was allegedly caught with two illegal immigrants and $200,000 worth of heroin in his home at the time of his arrest, is accused of feeding a drug ring confidential police information and also of operating a separate human smuggling ring.

One of the prison guards, Marcella Hernandez, is eight months pregnant with the child of Francisco Arce-Torre, the heroin ring's alleged "kingpin" and a member of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, said Arpaio.

Both Hernandez, 28, and Navarrette had received training and been certified by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

At the time of Hernandez's arrest, Arpaio said, she reporting for duty and was carrying $16,000 in her purse.

All three suspects -- Navarrette, Hernandez and corrections officer Sylvia Najera -- were booked on felony trafficking charges.

Hernandez was charged with transporting drugs and money laundering and was ordered held on $2 million bond.

Najera was charged with money laundering and controlling a criminal enterprise, but bail was not immediately set.

None of the arrested officers have entered pleas or obtained legal counsel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Grandma Caught Trying to Sell Baby Grandson

Photo Courtesy - WFTV 9 Orlando(DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.) -- A Florida grandmother is under arrest for allegedly trying to sell her grandson.

Patty Bigbee, 45, and her boyfriend, 42-year-old Lawrence Works, were taken into custody Friday after police say the pair was ready to hand over the 8-month-old child to a police informant.

The couple last month offered to sell the boy for $75,000 before allegedly agreeing to sell the infant for $30,000.

At court appearances Saturday, Bigbee’s bond was set at $100,000, while Works’ bond was set at $50,000.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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