On October 28th, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that Faizal Bhimani (Pocono Plaza Inn Hotel Manager), Nazim Hassam (Pocono Plaza Inn Hotel Owner), Pennsylvania corporation Om Sri Sai, Inc., and the Pocono Plaza Inn Hotel, otherwise known as the Quality Inn located in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, were convicted on October 23, 2020 of sex trafficking and drug trafficking charges. This is the first time ever that a hotel, as a corporate entity, has been convicted of sex trafficking offenses for knowingly benefiting financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a trafficking venture in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The CSE Institute is unaware of any other case in which the corporate entity of a hotel has been held criminally liable for aiding sex trafficking operations on hotel grounds in the U.S. and is grateful for the precedent that this conviction can set in future cases.
These convictions mark the end of a six-year, joint investigation into sex trafficking, drug trafficking and violent crime in Monroe County by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”). The CSE Institute reported on this case back in 2017, with a detailed description of the indictment faced by the hotel and manager Bhimani.
According to the Department of Justice press release, the jury found that the corporate entity that owned and operated the Bartonsville hotel and Faizal Bhimani, were both aiding and abetting sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion. The evidence at trial presented that Bhimani, as a manager of the hotel, made rooms available for sex traffickers and drug dealers, and at time took payment for the hotel directly from the proceeds of criminal activity. Evidence showed that Bhimani traded discounted and free rooms for sex, which traffickers would direct their victims to provide. Throughout the trial, multiple sex trafficking survivors testified in order to demonstrate how they were required to follow the rules set by these sex traffickers. These victims were forced to rely entirely on the sex traffickers for food, clothing, hygiene products. Their traffickers threatened victims with violence if victims did not comply with their rules.
The CSE Institute is grateful of the collaborative approach used by multiple law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute this case. However, as a community, we know that stories like these are not rare. All over the state and country, sex trafficking victims face these dangers and are forced to sell sex in exchange for basic necessities or fear of getting assaulted. It is no secret that hotels and motels are among the most common venues for facilitating and financially benefitting from sex trafficking; and even though it is possible to criminally convict or hold a hotel liable, it is important to note that these entities are rarely, if ever, charged criminally. Hotels, as corporations, can be held criminally liable under Federal and State Law. Under Federal human trafficking statute, the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”) hotels and motels can be held vicariously liable for the acts its employees commit under section 1591(a)(1) and 1591(a)(2). Similarly under Pennsylvania law, both hotel employees and hotels, as corporations, can be held criminally liable for sex trafficking under section 3011(a)(1) of the Pennsylvania Crime Code.
Over the last several years there have been multiple civil lawsuits filed against the hotel industry, exposing the prevalence of sex trafficking and prostitution occurring within those properties. The CSE Institute is encouraged by the impact that this precedent will set with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Stroud Regional Police Department, and the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. It is imperative that hotels and motels are being held accountable for their participation in human trafficking. This ground breaking conviction will send a message to traffickers and hotel employees who disregard indicators of sex trafficking and allow and engage in related criminal activity, namely that the age of impunity for commercial sexual exploitation is over.