A Sioux Falls man convicted of sex trafficking women and children will spend the rest of his life in prison. Mohammed Alaboudi is one of several criminals spending the rest of their lives behind bars for brokering deals in the sex trade. The latest ruling sheds new light on the crimes happening in South Dakota.
The muddy green house in the middle of Sioux Falls looks ordinary as it fades into the line of two-stories near Downtown. But police discovered heinous crimes in the upstairs apartment.
United States Attorney Brendan Johnson explains what happened blocks away from his office in that home. Johnson says Mohammed Alaboudi invited girls and women to his apartment.
"They would receive drugs. They would receive alcohol. They would huff hairspray in his home. All to lower their inhibitions so they could not say ‘no’ when he would bring man after man into his home where they would have sex with these young girls and women," Johnson says.
If the women or girls refused, Johnson says they were beaten and raped. Authorities first learned of Alaboudi’s sex trafficking when a 14-year-old girl divulged the abuses she survived.
"When she was brought into safety by the Sioux Falls Police Department, she was scared and she was angry," Johnson says. "Yet over the course of the next few weeks, she brought forth unbelievable courage to tell her story."
A federal judge says Alaboudi treated his victims worse than most people treat dogs; Alaboudi received four sentences of life in prison.
Mohammed Alaboudi is the third man in four years to get life in prison for sex trafficking in South Dakota, and his case is the most recent example of state and federal prosecution of sex crimes. U-S Attorney Brendan Johnson says survivors of sex trafficking are sometimes victims of multiple traffickers.
"These guys know who the most vulnerable girls in our communities are. They know who, often times, the drug-addicted and the substance abusers are. So there really is a connection amongst the victims with the human traffickers," Johnson says. "Also, we know that some of the traffickers used some of Alaboudi’s home. They would bring their girls over to Alaboudi’s home."
Johnson says the Minnehaha State’s Attorney prosecuted twelve men who wanted to have sex with the women or girls under Alaboudi’s control.
Long before prosecutors implore maximum sentences in court, law enforcement must identify sex trafficking. Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel says authorities have shifted their mindset as they learn more about how people buy and sell sex.
"In those cases, we looked upon the prostitute as being the real criminal in the case. And that’s who we targeted, and those are the arrest that we mainly made. But we quickly realized upon further investigation that the real victims in these cases are the prostitutes themselves. And even worse yet we’re finding that there’s underage kids that are being prostituted," Barthel says.
Barthel says now members of law enforcement acquire evidence and arrest the people running trafficking operations and the people willing to pay for sex. He says officers on the street crimes unit have the time and resources for investigations into sex trafficking. The police chief says authorities also work with hotel managers and owners to better detect signs of sex trafficking in their businesses.
Law enforcement leaders say prostitution – whether willing or forced – isn’t arranged on street corners; it happens through technology like text messages and online forums. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says he’s one of 49 Attorneys General from around the country who signed a letter to Congress.
"There’s a law that’s been put in place that has had an unintended consequence of giving some of these media forums, some of these different companies that facilitate human trafficking – and we’ve seen it here in South Dakota – immunity," Jackley says. "And we have asked, 49 of us have asked Congress to address that, and I’m happy to report that we are continually working through that."
Jackley says South Dakota’s state legislature approved several provisions this session supporting the crackdown on sex trafficking.
Officials against sex trafficking say they hope South Dakota’s repeated rulings – multiple sentences of life in prison – act as deterrents for criminals involved in the sex trade or people looking to buy sex. US Attorney Brendan Johnson hails the consequences for Mohammed Alaboudi’s crimes against women and children.
"Mr. Alaboudi’s house of horror is closed, and our mission as law enforcement is to make sure that another one does not open its doors in the future," Johnson says.
Johnson says that means vigilant investigation into sex trafficking in South Dakota, finding situations of abuse, rescuing survivors and prosecuting the people responsible for reprehensible crimes.