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5 convicted of selling Thai women for sex in U.S.

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, 11:36 p.m.
After the verdicts, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Erica MacDonald called the sex trafficking operation one of largest, most sophisticated transnational sex rings ever dismantled on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn. 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. (Stephen Montemayor/Star Tribune via AP)
After the verdicts, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Erica MacDonald called the sex trafficking operation one of largest, most sophisticated transnational sex rings ever dismantled on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn. 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. (Stephen Montemayor/Star Tribune via AP)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Five people on trial for an alleged ring that prosecutors said sold Thai women for sex in the United States 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, Calif.; 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.

“Sex trafficking is an industry that is built on supply and demand, and this organization fed that industry,” U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said Wednesday, calling the case one of the largest trafficking networks ever dismantled at the federal level. “It exploited, it abused, enslaved and sold women in response to the high demand for commercial sex that exists not only in the United States but here in Minnesota.”

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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