A bar owner in Guam was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for her involvement in a sex trafficking scheme to force young women and one juvenile girl into prostitution. Song Ja Cha was also ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution to the victims in the case and a fine of $10,000, according to a statement issued yesterday by Alicia A.G. Limtiaco, U.S. Attorney for the District of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
On Feb. 17, 2011, a federal jury in Guam found Song Ja Cha, 71, guilty on all 20 counts of an indictment that charged her with sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, coercion and enticement to travel in interstate or foreign commerce for prostitution, and transportation of a minor for prostitution. The trial lasted eight days.
According to court documents, from 2004 through January 2008, Cha and others in the conspiracy recruited and enticed some 10 victims to come to Guam from the island of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia. The victims were largely poor, young, and uneducated. Cha lured the young women and one 16-year-old girl to Guam by promising them legitimate employment in a restaurant or store. In actuality, Cha was the proprietor of Blue House Lounge, a bar that included approximately six VIP rooms offering commercial sex.
According to evidence presented in court, Cha and her co-conspirators compelled the victims to work in the VIP rooms for 12 to 14 hours a day for the financial benefit of the conspiracy. Upon the victims' arrival to the Blue House Lounge, Cha stripped the young women of their passports, clothing, and identities. Cha then used a variety of means to compel the victims to engage in prostitution, including physical assaults, threats of arrest, manipulation of debt, withholding food, and restricted access to the outside world. The victims testified that they were terrified of Cha and her co-conspirators, and that Cha used the fact that police officers frequented the lounge to make the victims believe that she was “connected” and could have them arrested and jailed.
“The sexual exploitation of vulnerable individuals is an affront to fundamental rights and will not be tolerated in our country. The defendant preyed on the hopes and dreams of these young victims, forcing them into a life of prostitution,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously prosecuting the trafficking of human beings to uphold the rights of those held in modern-day slavery, whether for labor or for sexual exploitation.”
“Human traffickers trick, lie and coerce young women with a promise of work in a legitimate job,” said Limtiaco. “In reality, these young women lose their freedom and are horribly demeaned by the sexual acts that they are forced to perform. Cha preyed on vulnerable victims and used threats and abuse to force them into prostitution. The jury's verdict makes clear that sex trafficking schemes will not be tolerated. We will continue to find traffickers and hold them accountable for their crimes. Today's life sentence as argued for by the government, and ordered by the court, sends the critical message that human trafficking is a crime that violates the very core and dignity of a human being and traffickers face severe punishment.”
The Department of Justice has identified human trafficking prosecutions such as this one as a top priority.
This case was investigated by special agents of Homeland Security Investigations and the Guam Police Department. This case was prosecuted by trial attorneys Jared Fishman and Shan Patel of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division Criminal Section with assistance from assistant U.S. attorney Rosetta San Nicolas.
To report trafficking crimes, call the Department of Homeland Security Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423. (USAO)