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Minnesota jury convicts five of sex trafficking

Prosecutors say they sold Thai women in the U.S.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 7:31 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Five people on trial for an alleged ring that prosecutors said sold Thai women for sex in the U.S. were convicted Wednesday on sex trafficking charges.

A federal jury in Minnesota found all five guilty of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and other charges, the Star Tribune reported . Jurors returned their verdict just a day after receiving the case.

The defendants were Michael Morris, 65, of Seal Beach, California; Pawinee Unpradit, 46, of Dallas; Saowapha Thinram, 44, of Hutto, Texas; Thoucharin Ruttanamongkongul, 35, of Chicago; and Waralee Wanless, 39, of Colony, Texas.

Prosecutors alleged during the six-week trial that the defendants, along with 34 co-conspirators, ran a sex trafficking operation that lasted more than a decade and crossed borders.

Government attorneys called it a case of "modern day sex slavery," with Thai women forced to have sex with multiple men daily to pay off "bondage debts" owed to traffickers for help coming to the U.S. Some victims testified during the trial.

Prosecutors said the victims were misled about how much they owed. The women were threatened if they tried to leave the business, prosecutors alleged.

Defense attorneys for all five contended the women were willful participants.

Paul Engh, an attorney for Thinram, predicted all five defendants will appeal.

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