June 3, 2015
Case # 13NF2746
CONTRA COSTA MAN SENTENCED TO FIVE YEARS AND EIGHT MONTHS IN PRISON FOR SEX TRAFFICKING AND PIMPING CHARGES AFTER TRAFFICKING WOMAN HE MET ON ESCORT WEBSITE
SANTA ANA – A Contra Costa County man was sentenced today to five years and eight months in state prison for sex trafficking, pimping and pandering charges after he trafficked a northern California woman to Orange County. Laton Lateef Belle, 29, El Sobrante, pleaded guilty May 8, 2015, to one felony count each of human trafficking, attempted pimping, and pandering.
Circumstances of the Case
Belle is a pimp/modern-day slave owner who exploits women for financial gain. Pimps often establish rigid rules that their victims are expected to follow including requiring victims to not speak to other African-American males and setting daily quotas that the victims are expected to fulfill. The victims are required to turn over all payments received from sex purchasers to their pimp. Failure to follow these rules can result in physical and/or emotional abuse.
Between Aug. 4, 2013, and Aug. 7, 2013, Belle met 25-year-old Jane Doe through an Internet website known for prostitution and escort services. He sent Jane Doe a text message suggesting she go with him from northern California to Orange County and promised to help her make a lot of money. Belle drove the victim to Anaheim while he explained the rules and how much to charge for various sex acts. He then told Jane Doe he would keep all her money in exchange for providing everything she needed.
Over the course of three days, Belle instructed Jane Doe to perform commercial sex acts on sex purchasers and collected all the payments she received. He refused to give any money to the victim. Belle instilled fear in the victim by telling Jane Doe that he is associated with people who have killed people and knows where she lives. He further intimidated the victim by speaking to her aggressively over the phone and making her feel not free to leave.
On Aug. 8, 2013, the victim was contacted by an undercover Anaheim Police Department (APD) Officer, who arrested the defendant that day.
Members of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force and the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) Office work proactively to protect women and minors from falling victim to commercial sexual exploitation. This case was investigated by OCHTTF, a partnership between APD, California Highway Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Huntington Beach Police Department, OCDA, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and community and non-profit partners.
Deputy District Attorney Daniel Varon of the HEAT Unit prosecuted this case.
Proposition 35 and HEAT
In November 2012, California’s anti-human trafficking Proposition 35 (Prop 35) was enacted in California with 81 percent of the vote, and over 82 percent of the vote in Orange County, to increase the penalty for human trafficking, particularly in cases involving the trafficking of a minor by force.
A component of the OCHTTF is the OCDA’s Human Exploitation And Trafficking (HEAT) Unit, which targets perpetrators who sexually exploit and traffic women and underage girls for financial gain, including pimps, panderers, and human traffickers. The HEAT Unit uses a tactical plan called PERP: Prosecution, to bring justice for victims of human trafficking and hold perpetrators responsible using Prop 35; Education, to provide law enforcement training to properly handle human trafficking and pandering cases; Resources from public-private partnerships to raise public awareness about human trafficking and provide assistance to the victims; and Publicity, to inform the public and send a message to human traffickers that this crime cannot be perpetrated without suffering severe consequences.
Under the law, human trafficking is described as depriving or violating the personal liberty of another person with the intent to effect a violation of pimping or pandering. Pimping is described as knowingly deriving financial support in whole or in part from the proceeds of prostitution. Pandering is the act of persuading or procuring an individual to become a prostitute, or procuring and/or arranging for a person work in a house of prostitution.
Penal Code Section 236.1 defines:
(1) “Coercion” includes any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process; debt bondage; or providing and facilitating the possession of any controlled substance to a person with the intent to impair the person’s judgment.
(2) “Commercial sex act” means sexual conduct on account of which anything of value is given or received by any person.
(3) “Deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another” includes substantial and sustained restriction of another’s liberty accomplished through force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person, under circumstances where the person receiving or apprehending the threat reasonably believes that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out.
(4) “Duress” includes a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, hardship, or retribution sufficient to cause a reasonable person to acquiesce in or perform an act which he or she would otherwise not have submitted to or performed; a direct or implied threat to destroy, conceal, remove, confiscate, or possess any actual or purported passport or immigration document of the victim; or knowingly destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, or possessing any actual or purported passport or immigration document of the victim.
(5) “Forced labor or services” means labor or services that are performed or provided by a person and are obtained or maintained through force, fraud, duress, or coercion, or equivalent conduct that would reasonably overbear the will of the person.
(6) “Great bodily injury” means a significant or substantial physical injury.
(7) “Minor” means a person less than 18 years of age.
(8) “Serious harm” includes any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious, under all the surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue performing labor, services, or commercial sexual acts in order to avoid incurring that harm.
(i) The total circumstances, including the age of the victim, the relationship between the victim and the trafficker or agents of the trafficker, and any handicap or disability of the victim, shall be factors to consider in determining the presence of “deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another,” “duress,” and “coercion” as described in this section.