ST. PAUL - Five people accused of facilitating an international forced-prostitution ring with ties to the Twin Cities were found guilty Wednesday, Dec. 12.
The verdicts followed a six-week trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul and bring the total number of people convicted in the criminal enterprise to 36. Thirty-one others had already pleaded guilty to their roles in coercing hundreds of Thai women to engage in commercial sex acts across the country, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the U.S. attorney’s office of Minnesota.
Michael Morris, 65, of Seal Beach, Calif.; Pawinee Unpradit, 46, of Dallas; Saowapha Thinram, 44, of Hutto, Texas; Thoucharin Ruttanamongkongul, 35, of Chicago; and Waralee Wanless, 39, of The Colony, Texas, were all convicted Wednesday of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution. Morris was also convicted of sex trafficking by use of force, fraud or coercion.
“The cruel and illegal actions of the defendants tear at the fabric of our community, causing trauma, fear and anguish both seen and unseen,” St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said in the news release. “Thankfully, due to the exceptional work of many law enforcement agencies and their representatives, the guilty will be held accountable for their actions and survivors will get help, support and justice.”
The victims of the scheme were lured to the U.S. from Thailand with promises of a better life, but once they arrived they were forced to have sex with strangers for up to 12 hours a day, prosecutors said. The women were shuttled around a dozen U.S. cities, including Bloomington, where they would be confined to hotel rooms, only allowed to leave if they were accompanied by a member of the organization.
The organization generated tens of millions of dollars from the criminal enterprise, prosecutors said.