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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Husband and wife charged with sex trafficking teenagers

OAKLAND, Calif. – A former Sacramento, Calif., couple has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges stemming from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into allegations they recruited teenage females and forced them to work as prostitutes.

Mahendar "Mike" Singh, 40, and his wife, Helen Jean Singh (née Kearney), 22, are accused in an indictment, filed Dec. 1, of conspiring to traffic teenage females to provide sex acts to customers in exchange for money and other things of value. Mahendar Singh was arraigned Tuesday and pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in Oakland. Helen Jean Singh's arraignment is set for Dec. 8.

According to the indictment, the defendants recruited teenagers by promising them money, drugs and a "family-like environment." Instead, the couple allegedly maintained control over the victims by using physical force and threats of physical force, and fostering a climate of fear. According to court documents, the defendants advertised their prostitution enterprise, which operated in Sacramento County and multiple Bay Area counties, over the Internet. An affidavit filed in the case alleges the defendants used an Internet website to advertise their victims and employed cell phones and text-messaging to make arrangements with customers.

That affidavit states the defendants were arrested Aug. 20 after the South San Francisco Police Department responded to a motel near the San Francisco airport and found Mahendar Singh with a 19-year-old and two 16-year-olds.

Mahendar Singh is currently in federal custody. He is scheduled to make his next court appearance Jan. 11, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in Oakland. Helen Jean Singh has been released on bond.

Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, along with a fine of up to $250,000.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang and legal assistant Jeanne Carstensen. ICE HSI and the FBI received substantial assistance in this case from the South San Francisco Police Department and the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.

Anyone who has information about possible human trafficking activity is encouraged to call ICE HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or visit the agency's online tip form.