Missouri bill would boost penalties for human trafficking

Monday, January 31, 2011 | 6:11 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Those convicted of human trafficking in Missouri would face tougher penalties under legislation a state lawmaker said he plans to introduce.

Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, said the measure he plans to introduce this week would boost Missouri penalties for human trafficking to the same level as federal statutes. Federal penalties for human trafficking convictions range from fines to up to life in prison, Kander said.

He said most human trafficking violations in Missouri range from about five years in prison and are capped at 15 years in prison.

It's because of those sentencing variations that more human trafficking cases are tried at the federal level in Missouri, Kander said.

"As we bring the state level up to the federal level, you're going to see more prosecutions and charges at the state level, which will result in more people being part of the fight," Kander said.

Kander lauded the U.S. Attorney Office for the Western District of Missouri, which he said has prosecuted more human trafficking cases than any other federal district.

"They've done an outstanding job," Kander said. "But law enforcement at the state level is ready to have their back and help them out."

Human trafficking has been viewed as a growing problem in Missouri, where a state committee that advises officials on children's issues has been established to study the issue. The panel, part of the Missouri Children's Services Commission, is comprised of state and federal prosecutors, law enforcement officials and social service advocates.

"We want to empower state level law enforcement to have the same results as federal law enforcement," Kander said.

Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri, said that the office has prosecuted more than 40 human trafficking cases since 2006.

He said that's "substantially more" than other districts  but did not have a breakdown of other district's cases.

In October, a man from Uzbekistan accused of running a 14-state human trafficking ring in Kansas City pleaded guilty to four charges and was sentenced to at least 10 years in federal prison.

Abrorkhodja Askarkhodjaev, 31, was facing more than 100 counts related to a scheme to lure foreigners to Kansas City and turning into forced laborers who were threatened with having their temporary visas pulled or having harm done to their families.

Federal prosecutors said the enterprise illegally made more than $6 million.

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