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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
11/29/2012

Former Sacramento woman sentenced to 9 years for sex trafficking

OAKLAND, Calif. — A former Sacramento woman was sentenced Wednesday to nine years in federal prison on charges stemming from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI that linked her to a scheme to sex traffic teenage girls.

Helen Jean Singh (née Kearney), 22, pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in a sex trafficking conspiracy involving the prostitution of teenage females. During Wednesday's sentencing, Singh accepted responsibility for her actions.

A federal grand jury indicted Singh and her husband, Mahendar "Mike" Singh, on the sex trafficking conspiracy charge in December 2011. According to the indictment, the pair recruited teenage girls by promising money, drugs and a "family-like environment." The couple maintained control over their victims by providing drugs, using physical force and threats of physical force, and fostering a climate of fear. The Singh's used the Internet to advertise their prostitution enterprise, which spanned from Sacramento County to multiple Bay Area counties.

"Few crimes strike at our community the way sex trafficking does," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said. "By sexually exploiting children and young adults for financial gain, sex traffickers have shown that greed has no bounds. My office will continue to lead efforts by law enforcement to fight the menace that is sex trafficking."

The Singhs were arrested in August 2011 after the South San Francisco Police Department responded to a motel near the San Francisco Airport and found Mahendar Singh with three teenage girls. The affidavit alleges the defendants used an Internet website to advertise their victims and employed cell phones and text-messaging to make arrangements with customers.

"While no prison sentence can ever compensate for the physical and emotional toll experienced by trafficking victims, this lengthy prison term should serve as a sobering warning about the consequences facing those who engage in this reprehensible practice," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Francisco. "Human traffickers prey on the powerless and the vulnerable. ICE Homeland Security Investigations and its federal law enforcement partners are committed to protecting those who cannot protect themselves."

"The FBI will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to relentlessly pursue and bring to justice sex traffickers who exploit and victimize juveniles," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Gavin of FBI San Francisco. "We will also work with our community partners to help those who are victimized get the assistance they need."

In addition to HSI and the FBI, the other agencies involved in the case included the South San Francisco Police Department; the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office; the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Criminal Section, Civil Rights Division; U.S. Department of Justice; and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton. Judge Hamilton also sentenced Helen Singh, who was and will remain in custody, to a five-year period of supervised release following her prison term and ordered her to forfeit property and make restitution of $45,000 to one of the victims. Mahendar Singh, who also pleaded guilty previously, received the same sentence April 18.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang prosecuted the case with the assistance of legal assistant Vanessa Vargas.

Anyone who suspects instances of human trafficking is encouraged to call the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anonymous calls are welcome.