A key member of a massive Thai sex-trafficking conspiracy pleaded guilty Tuesday to helping secure fraudulent visas for victims sent to Minnesota and elsewhere in a case first filed in 2016.
Sumalee Intarathong, who also appears by Alice Spencer Warren, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering – more than a year after she was extradited from Belgium to stand trial.
According to Intartung’s plea agreement filed Tuesday, she was described as acting primarily as a “visa broker” for the organization. She and more than three dozen others were first charged in 2016 as part of an international investigation dubbed the “Dark Nights of Bangkok.”
Prosecutors called the case an example of “modern-day sex slavery,” and five of the defendants were convicted after a six-week trial in 2018. Others have since pleaded guilty. Law enforcement once believed Intartung to be one of the “big bosses” in the organization. But in Tuesday’s plea deal, federal prosecutors and Intertung now agreed that wasn’t the case.
“By pleading guilty today Ms. Intarathong has accepted responsibility for her role in this conspiracy,” Aaron Morrison, Intarathong’s attorney, said in a statement Tuesday. “She looks forward to the opportunity to address the court at the sentencing.”
According to Intarathong’s plea agreement, she participated in a “large-scale international sex trafficking organization” that began at least in 2009. Thai women were required to travel to the United States to engage in commercial sex acts, and co-conspirators engaged in “extensive visa fraud” to bring the victims overseas.
In Minnesota and other states, the victims were kept in “houses of prostitution”, which included apartments, houses and/or hotels. The victims were required to perform sex work to pay “bond debts” of between $40,000 and $60,000, which “far exceeded” the actual expenses incurred by their traffickers. The ring targeted victims from poor backgrounds and made threats to get them to continue paying their debts.
“Until they paid their bond debt, the victims were effectively ‘owned’ and controlled by the organization,” according to the plea agreement.
Intartung studied and earned degrees in industrial design and communications before coming to the United States, and her studies took her to Vienna and London, where prosecutors say she developed the skills and experience to run a successful travel business. She became involved in the sex-trafficking organization through connections in Britain, according to her plea agreement.
While in Thailand, she met with people who asked for her help in preparing visa applications for victims to enter the UK and the US. It involved a woman known as “M” and a man known as “To”, described as the leaders of a large sex-trafficking organization. Investigators once believed Intartung to be the leader known as “M”.
Intarathong entered the United States in 2009 in San Francisco on a B1/B2 visitor visa with co-defendant Chabaprai Boonluea, whom the organization trafficked to the United States to engage in commercial sex. She also came with Boonluea’s “husband” from a sham marriage and the Thai trader known as “To”.
Intarathong was later returned to Thailand and barred from returning to the U.S. after an interview with Customs and Border Protection while attempting to re-enter the U.S. in July 2011. Back in Thailand, she continued to assist the trafficking ring in recruiting and preparing fraudulent visa applications for women sent to the United States and Belgium.
Intarathong was first charged in a criminal complaint in July 2016, and was taken into custody the following month in Liege, Belgium. She was indicted in September 2016 and formally extradited in February 2021.
Intarthong admitted on Tuesday that the sex-trafficking ring laundered money by moving the illegal proceeds from the United States to Thailand and ordered victims to do the same.
“Although the defendant did not take sophisticated measures herself, the defendant admits that the transactions were all and in part intended to hide or disguise the nature, source, ownership and control in return for the specified illegal behavior,” the petition wrote. written in the agreement.
According to the plea agreement, Intartung’s calculated guideline sentencing range ranges from 19 to 24 years in prison. Senior Judge Donovan Frank has not yet set a sentencing date.
Intarathong plans to ask Frank to reduce her sentence by about 4 1/2 years to reflect the time she spent in custody in Belgium between August 2016 and February 2021. Prosecutors said they would deny Frank the request.
Under the plea deal, federal prosecutors plan to seek a 10-year prison sentence for Intartung, citing sentences already imposed in the case.