Weno, Chuuk— On April 23, 2015, Acting Chief Justice Ready Johnny found the defendant, Silisio a.k.a. “Sirco” Tipingeni guilty on all ten charges brought by the FSM government in FSM v. Tipingeni, Criminal Action 2013-037. The Department of Justice’s criminal information included eight counts of criminal deprivation of the civil right against slavery and involuntary servitude, one count of aggravated money laundering, and one count of aggravated criminal mischief. Justice Johnny imposed a one-year sentence for each count, to be served consecutively for a total of ten years. The sentence includes probation with conditions that include: (1) home confinement in Uman except for medical emergencies; and, (2) twenty weekends at the Chuuk State jail with the balance of the incarceration suspended on the condition the defendant successfully complete probation. Acting Chief Johnny noted that this was the first case of its kind prosecuted in the FSM and that it was important to make a statement that such crimes will be punished in the FSM. FSM Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Aaron Warren handled the case for the FSM Government. FSM Chief Public Defender, Julius J. Sapelalut, handled the defense.
In its opening statement at trial, the Government contended that the defendant’s role as the primary recruiter in Chuuk was critical to carrying out a criminal enterprise that involved multiple co-conspirators both in Guam and in Chuuk. During its case-in-chief, the Government showed that the defendant recruited eight young Chuukese women to work in Guam based on false promises of legitimate work in restaurants and retail stores. Once the women arrived in Guam, however, the defendant’s co-conspirator, Song Ja Cha, met them at the airport. Their passports were immediately taken and they were taken to the “Blue House Karaoke Bar” where they were told they must work to repay the debt for their travel from Chuuk or they would be arrested. The victims were locked inside the Blue House, and if they protested, they were deprived of food, beaten, and threatened with arrest. Damning testimony was presented of one of the defendant’s daughters and his niece who corroborated that the defendant had ordered the daughter to return to the Blue House after she ran away despite the daughter’s pleas that she was beaten if she refused to have sex with Blue House customers. The Government also showed that in 2007, the defendant received over $10,000 in wire transfers, a watch, and other remuneration from Song Ja Cha for the recruitment of the victims.
In addition to the defendant and Song Ja Cha, other co-conspirators included members of the Guam police force and two Chuukese women who acted as enforcers to intimidate and monitor the victims in order to prevent them from running away from the Blue House. Two other prosecutions, one in the Guam Federal Court and one in the Guam Superior Court, had previously resulted in convictions of Song Ja Cha and the other co-conspirators.
The investigation and preparation for trial was the result of unprecedented cross-jurisdictional coordination and assistance between the FSM and U.S. governments. In response to a request for assistance from the FSM government, the U.S. government authorized the Guam and Honolulu FBI offices to provide technical, logistical, and financial assistance for the prosecution. Honolulu based FBI victims specialist Monica Rowsey facilitated the travel and preparation of victims to testify at trial, and the preparation of victim impact statements for sentencing. Guam based FBI Special Agent Jason Dodd assisted throughout the preparation of the case by facilitating authorization for evidence held by U.S. authorities to be released to the FSM Department of Justice for use in the case; locating and coordinating meetings with witnesses in Guam, Saipan, Honolulu, and the mainland U.S.; and by providing technical expertise and support to the prosecution. FBI Special Agent Jason Dodd also testified for the FSM government both at trial and at sentencing, providing critical testimony showing the connection between the defendant’s recruitment in Chuuk and the criminal exploitation of the victims in Guam, the long term trauma to the victims, and the financial greed that motivated the defendant to trick and deceive his own daughters and relations into conditions of slavery.
The underlying events in the case took place primarily during 2006 and 2007 when the victims were recruited from Chuuk. By the time of trial, most of the key witnesses no longer resided in the FSM. However, all but one of the alleged victims and other key eye witnesses testified for trial, some by live testimony and others by video recording that was prepared at the FBI Field Office in Guam. Those victims who returned to Chuuk to testify were briefly reunited with their families who they had not seen since their recruitment to Guam in 2007.
Human trafficking charges under the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 (Public Law 17-38) could not be charged in the Chuuk case, as the events occurred before the 2012 law went into effect. However, in his closing argument, AAG Warren remarked that although the case was brought under the criminal civil rights provision and other provisions of the FSM Code, the case was “a textbook” example of human trafficking. In the U.S. State Department’s most recent annual Trafficking in Persons report, the FSM was upgraded to Tier 2 from Tier 2 Watchlist due in large part to the priority placed by the FSM Government on addressing human trafficking through dedicated initiatives for public awareness and law enforcement. The successful investigation and prosecution of human trafficking offenses are key criteria that are evaluated in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report.