Remarks by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas 5th Annual Victims’ Rights March & Rally
April 26, 2013
Remembering those we have lost, honoring those who have survived, and celebrating the tenacity and strength of the people who carry on the fight for justice – Welcome to the 5th Annual Orange County Victims’ Rights March & Rally.
Thank you all for coming. It’s hard to believe that this is our fifth year together, and it’s wonderful to see how far we’ve come during that time in the fight for victims’ rights.
Before we begin today, I want to take a moment to pay our respects to the victims of the bombings in Boston. Many of you here have experienced the pain of being a victim, and our hearts go out to the many families suffering today from the recent tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the three murdered victims, the hundreds of injured victims, their families, their friends, and the countless frightened citizens who have a long road of healing ahead. But like the resilient, strong victims here with us today, no one will ever take our American hope, spirit, and resolve.
Please stand as I introduce Vice-Chair of the California State Board of Equalization Michelle Park Steel to lead us in a Moment of Silence.
(Steel leads Moment of Silence)
Thank you, Michelle.
Please remain standing.
Before Senator Lou Correa leads us in the Pledge of Allegiance and Deputy District Attorney Anna Chinowth sings the National Anthem, please turn your attention to the Santa Ana Police Department Honor Guard for the Presentation of the Colors.
(Color Guard Present)
(Correa leads Pledge of Allegiance)
(Chinowth sings National Anthem)
(Color Guard exits)
You may be seated.
I would now like to introduce the other guests who have joined me on stage.
To my left are Rachel Alvarado, mother of murder victim Lanette Alvarado, and Dr. Henry Nicholas III, brother of murder victim Marsy Nicholas, the inspiration and namesake for California’s Marsy’s Law. To my right is State Senator Mimi Walters. You’ll be hearing from them shortly.
Before we begin, I want to thank our co-sponsors, benefactors, and volunteers who helped to underwrite and support this event: First and foremost, I want to thank the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Santa Ana Police Department for their time and support in coordinating this event. The Sheriff’s Department also provided the sound system and its engineers, and Santa Ana PD provided the motor escort and the Honor Guard. I would also like to thank OC Parks for allowing us to use this beautiful courthouse today; Orange County Fire Authority for providing the videography and editing; Association of Orange County Deputy District Attorneys – Civic Action Committee; Orange County District Attorney Investigators Association; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Susan Kang Schroeder; and Starbucks for their generous donations. I would like to pay a special thanks to Community Service Programs, who not only dedicate their time and service to this event, but who dedicate their time and service to victims day in and day out. Thank you.
I want to acknowledge the elected officials and dignitaries who have joined us for this rally. These political leaders are demonstrating through their presence here today their commitment to victims’ rights and providing our community with the resources to continue protecting public safety. Thank you for holding your applause until the end: Dennise Willett, Chief of the Santa Anna Office of the United States Attorney’s Office, Assemblyman Don Wagner, County Supervisors Janet Nguyen and Todd Spitzer, Fountain Valley Mayor Mark McCurdy, La Palma Mayor Steve Hwangbo, Laguna Hills Mayor Barbara Kogerman, Tustin Mayor Al Murray, Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, Garden Grove City Councilman and our own Deputy District Attorney Chris Phan, La Palma City Councilman Peter Kim, Santa Ana City Councilwoman and our own Deputy District Attorney Claudia Alvarez, Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, Yorba Linda Councilman Gene Hernandez. We have representatives from the offices of: Senator Lou Correa, Congressman Ed Royce, and County Supervisor Shawn Nelson.
The law enforcement representatives here today are: Orange Police Chief Robert Gustafson, Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, Santa Ana Interim Police Chief Carlos Rojas, the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, Anaheim Police Department, Irvine Police Department, Newport Beach Police Department, La Habra Police Department, La Palma Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Placentia Police Department, and Seal Beach Police Department.
Many of our past keynote speakers are also here with us today. They have shared their stories, opened their hearts to us, and I’m so appreciative to have their continued support and participation. Please stand up and be recognized: Collene Campbell, sister of murder victim Mickey Thompson and mother of murder victim Scott Campbell. Erin Runnion, mother of murder victim Samantha Runnion. Lance Frazee, father of murder victim Mackenzie Frazee. And Donna Bjion, sister of murder victim Katherine O’Connell. Let’s welcome them back with a round of applause.
We have many victims’ groups represented here today. Here is Senator Walters to honor them.
(Walters reads victims’ groups list)
Now for the reason we are all here today – to never forget the ones we have lost, to heal from the harm that’s been caused, to triumph over evil and take back the power.
I see so many of you with buttons, posters, and pictures. Can you all please stand so we can see the faces of your loved ones? Thank you!
Over the past four years, you’ve heard me talk about the 40-year fight for crime victims’ rights and criminal justice reform. You’ve heard me talk about working to recall California Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other rogue justices, working to pass the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act Proposition 115, Gang reform Proposition 21, DNA reform Proposition 69, fighting against the weakening of Three Strikes Law by opposing Proposition 66 and against the repeal of the death penalty by opposing Proposition 34, passing Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law, Marsy’s Law, and the Orange County Sex Offender Ordinance. You’ve been with us as we’ve continued to work on behalf of victims to secure your rights.
I have vowed to you each year that we will never stop working for you as long as there are new victims of crime, and I’m pleased to share with you today the newest efforts in that fight.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said in his Emancipation Proclamation that “all persons held as slaves. henceforward shall be free.” Today, 150 years later, we have been given a new mandate – to abolish the modern-slavery that is commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. I want to share with you the Orange County District Attorney’s office’s plans to meet that mandate.
Author and economist Kevin Bales described, “Slavery is about one person controlling another person using violence and then exploiting them economically, paying them nothing.”
Human exploitation and trafficking generally come in two forms – first in the form of forced labor, and the majority in the form of commercial sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, California is a major hub for human trafficking in the United States based on its geography and demographics.
The scope of the problem is huge. In the United States, approximately 17,500 adults and children are trafficked annually. It’s a $9 billion business . that’s billion with a “B.” Children are being prostituted on the streets and the Internet, in strip clubs and brothels, and child pornography is being produced and traded like baseball cards. The majority of these American children are between the ages 13 and 15, some are as young as 11.
Like the slaves of the past before they were emancipated, modern-day sex slaves are branded with tattoos of their owner’s names. They are being bullied and beaten into selling their bodies. For many of these victims, the slave owner is the only family they have, calling these men “daddy.” Some of these victims are foreign women who are lured with the offer of a lot of cash to work a legitimate job and then they are stripped of their passports and forced instead to work in brothels.
Career criminals and gang members have decided that exploiting humans, especially children, for commercial sex is hugely profitable and carries less risk of being apprehended and punished. It is the second most profitable criminal enterprise behind drug trafficking. These perpetrators are using new tools to turn new tricks, using technology to recruit desperate and vulnerable adults and prey on our children.
No child grows up hoping that they will one day be sold for sex. These victims are not throwaways. They are some of the most “tired, the poor” of our people.
In 2012, the Obama Administration held the first-ever cabinet meeting convened solely to discuss the issue of human trafficking. Currently, there is bi-partisan support, led by a Democrat and Republican senator, to reorganize and improve the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act of 2008. This act provides important funding and law enforcement provisions that assist victims and catch traffickers. These improvements are projected to be law by the end of this year.
Last November, Californians passed by 81 percent of the vote, and by 83 percent in Orange County, the anti-human exploitation and trafficking initiative Proposition 35, known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act. Look on this stage and at the people around you. This is not a conservative or liberal issue – it’s a human rights issue.
Californians and the People of Orange County have spoken – loudly – and you deserve to have the toughest laws and standards in this field. I pledge to you that my office will do all it can to fight these perpetrators.
Through the years, we in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office have handled these cases in various units and have achieved good results. And for the last several months we have been researching the best methods to answer the mandate to end trafficking and exploitation, to focus and to formalize our efforts to respond to this crime.
As a result, my Office launched a new vertical prosecution unit this week called HEAT, which stands for Human Exploitation And Trafficking. The team will work with all law enforcement to go after perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation with vigor, while taking a comprehensive approach to solve the problem and bring community stakeholders together. The HEAT Unit will use a tactical plan called PERP – Prosecution, Education, Resources, and Publicity.
First and foremost, my Office will PROSECUTE the heck out of these guys. With the new weapons provided by Prop 35, many of these defendants will be going away to state prison for multiple years, and some even for life. The slave owners will be recognized and treated like the predators that they are.
Second, we have to do more than prosecute these defendants. A major tactic in this battle will be EDUCATION. My Office will be educating police officers, prosecutors, and front-line professionals such as nurses and teachers. We will even be producing webinars and videos to take the message directly to parents and children, and to warn them how to stay away from these predators. We want to educate the public to bust the myth that the victims are voluntary participants who are getting a fair share of the profits. This is not like the movies, with willing women meeting millionaires on the street, staying in swanky Beverly Hills hotels, and taken on shopping sprees.
These women and children are being paid hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a day for sex, and every penny is being taken by their traffickers. The victims are paid instead with occasional compliments, a feeling of belonging to someone, gifts, food and shelter. But only if they produce enough. Folks, we have seen cases where girls are denied a burger at McDonald’s for failing to “earn” enough money for their modern-day slave owners.
Who could be so callous to refuse to get medical help for a young woman when she complains that her vaginal area is burning and that she is in pain? What kind of monster wouldn’t allow a young girl to come in from the cold when she is shivering outside in her skimpy clothes? Can we ask Hollywood and the music industry to stop glorifying the title “pimp?” Isn’t “pimp” just a euphemism for predator?
Third, we can’t fight this war without proper RESOURCES. These victims often have no place to go. We need to work together as a community to find them other options so that they have an alternative to the streets and don’t go back to their abusers. One of these young girls said after we arrested her slave owner that she wants to grow up to be a victim advocate. We need to be able to find a way to rescue her off the streets and educate her.
Private businesses and faith-based groups have worked together with law enforcement in Orange County to help at-risk youths from joining gangs. Let’s now have a public-private partnership work together to also save these children from danger.
Finally, we are going to PUBLICIZE our work so the bad guys know the consequences of their actions. These types of defendants are already complaining while sitting in jail that Orange County takes these types of cases too seriously and, that if they had violated these crimes in another jurisdiction, they would already be out of jail.
As for the sex purchasers, let’s stop calling them “Johns.” I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of really great “Johns!” My Office will soon be sending out a press release on all defendants convicted of purchasing sex. At the very least, their partners and wives ought to know these sex purchasers are possibly endangering their health.
The OCDA’s HEAT will be on these PERPS, and we need to work together as a community to say, “No more.” Enough is enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.
Dr. Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” It’s time for us to answer the bell and do better than we ever have before.
Now it’s time for our guests of honor – Rachel Alvarado is here to represent her daughter, Lanette Alvarado. Lanette was a beautiful 23-year-old woman and mother to two young children. She was working, going to school, and trying to make something of her life to set an example for her kids – including distancing herself from her ex-boyfriend Miguel Vargas, who had recently been convicted of domestic violence against her. On Feb. 5, 2009, Vargas drove to Lanette’s home and murdered her by stabbing her 20 times in the back of her head, neck, and back. Her two children were in the home and watched in horror as their mother was brutally murdered. After the murder, Vargas fled to Tijuana and it took a multi-agency effort to locate him and bring him back. He was a documented gang member and was prosecuted by our TARGET Unit, a specialized team that targets the most violent, active criminal street gang members.
During the jury trial, the defendant left threatening messages for our prosecutor, yelled and cursed at the judge, physically fought against the deputies attempting to restrain him, and taunted Lanette’s family by staring at them in court and making outlandish claims that Lanette was still alive. Throughout the many court hearings and emotional trial, Rachel was there every day to be the voice of her daughter. She sat in court for countless hours to make sure that her daughter would not be forgotten and that her murderer would be brought to justice. It took three years, but Vargas was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 73 years to life in state prison.
With the help of Lanette’s siblings, Rachel is now raising Lanette’s two children and is working to keep Lanette’s memory alive in them. She has found support in Parents of Murdered Children by meeting other families and learning together with them how to deal with the grief and loss.
For Rachel, bravery through this process was not a choice – it was a promise. It was a promise she made to Lanette not to rest until justice was served. Here is Ms. Alvarado to tell you about that promise.
Thank you, Ms. Alvarado.
I would now like to introduce one of the most influential victims’ rights leaders and advocates in California. He is an entrepreneur, business leader, philanthropist, and is nationally recognized for his work in victims’ rights. Dr. Henry Nicholas III, has been deeply committed to victims’ rights since 1983, when his younger sister, Marsy, was brutally murdered. He was the chief architect of Marsy’s Law, the landmark Constitutional Amendment passed by California voters in November 2008.
Marsy called him Nick, and that is how he would like us to address him, despite his numerous degrees. Nick is not a guy who gives ups or lets obstacles get in his way. He had learning disabilities as a child, but earned a PhD. He co-founded Broadcom in 1991, investing $5,000 of his money to get the company off the ground, taking the company public seven years later and making it a Fortune 500 company. He could have given up on the criminal justice system many times over, but he is more determined now than ever to take Marsy’s Law nationwide.
Marsy’s Law created the nation’s first comprehensive Victims’ Bill of Rights and serves as a model in the effort to pass a U.S. Constitutional Amendment to protect victims nationwide. Nick also formed Marsy’s Law for All, which helps to empower and unite disparate victims’ rights organizations. Our prosecutors invoke Marsy’s Law in court every day to make sure that the criminal justice system serves the victims.
Nick helped his mother Marcella Leach build Justice for Homicide Victims, which counsels victims’ families and has successfully advocated for change in the judicial system. In 2004, he passionately fought to defeat Proposition 66, which would have gutted California’s Three Strikes law. He was honored by law enforcement agencies and advocates across the state for his work on this campaign. Nick is a recipient of the Ronald Reagan Award for Pioneering Achievement in Criminal Justice and has received awards from Crime Victims United of California, the National Crime Victims’ Institute, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and my office, among many others.
More recently, Nick was a major supporter of Jessica’s Law and he has actively lobbied the California legislature to support tougher laws that require violent offenders to serve their full sentence. Many in Nick’s position may be happy on a personal tropical island, but Nick instead intends to take Marsy’s fight to the rest of the country.
Please help me welcome Dr. Henry Nicholas III.
Thank you, Nick. Your service to victims has not only shaped our state, but the lives of so many here with us today.
We are a community of survivors, and there will always be more of us than criminals. We are never going to stop working to protect others from suffering, and we will continue to stand up for victims – of human trafficking, murder, sexual assault, and all the crimes that you are here speaking out against today.
This process is not a choice, it’s a promise, and we will not easily be deterred as long as there are new victims and new crimes. We in law enforcement and public life dedicate our service to all those harmed by crime, to bring justice, to fight your fight, and to defend your rights. Every year, we will work together to assert our rights and protect our community.
Thank you for coming to this March and Rally, which reminds us each year of all that we must do, and strengthens our resolve to not give up. Thank you, Rachel and Nick. By speaking up for victims, you empower all victims to have a voice.
Thank you all for coming out today, wearing your t-shirts, holding your signs, and carrying your loved one’s pictures in your hand and their spirits in your hearts.
I wish you peace and strength until we see each other – next year.