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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Northern California man sentenced to 9 years in federal prison for sex trafficking teens

OAKLAND, Calif. — A former Sacramento man was sentenced Thursday 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 him to a scheme to sex traffic teenage girls.

Mahendar "Mike" Singh, 40, pleaded guilty in January to sex trafficking conspiracy. Singh admitted that he and his wife, co-defendant Helen Jean Singh (née Kearney), 22, conspired to operate a prostitution enterprise between spring 2011 and August 2011 in Sacramento County and multiple Bay Area counties. Mahendar Singh admitted to recruiting teenage girls to provide sex services in exchange for money and drugs and to knowing that at least one of the teenagers was a juvenile. He also admitted that he and his wife were able to maintain their victims' services by providing them with money, clothing and drugs; promising them a family-like environment; and by using threats and physical force. The defendants relied on Internet websites to advertise the victims and cell phones to make arrangements with customers.

"Sex trafficking is a blight on our communities and, unfortunately, today's technology makes it possible for modern day pimps to spread this blight far and wide," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. "My office will continue to work closely with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to help bring an end to sex trafficking and ensure that the perpetrators of this criminal activity are brought to justice."

"Today's sentence is a victory not only for the young victims in this particular case, but also for human dignity and the rule of law," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge of HSI San Francisco. "HSI is fully committed to working with our law enforcement partners, both local and international, to combat the crime of human trafficking. We encourage anyone who suspects that human trafficking is occurring in their community to report it to authorities immediately."

"Coercion of juveniles into prostitution is a particularly heinous crime," said FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Stephanie Douglas. "We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to target individuals engaged in such sex trafficking, and to do all within the FBI's powers to protect the most vulnerable in our society."

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton. In addition to the five-year prison term, Judge Hamilton also sentenced Mahendar Singh, who remains in custody, to five years of supervised release upon completion of his jail time.

A federal grand jury indicted Mahendar Singh and his wife on the sex trafficking conspiracy charge in December 2011. Helen Singh, who is also in custody, pleaded guilty to the same charge Jan. 18. Her sentencing date has not yet been set.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang with support from legal assistant Vanessa Vargas. The matter was referred to HSI and the FBI for investigation following an initial probe by the South San Francisco Police Department in collaboration with the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and its Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section also provided substantial assistance with the case.

Anyone who suspects instances of human trafficking are encouraged to call the FBI, HSI, or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. Anonymous calls are welcome.