Block on Trump's Asylum Ban Upheld by Supreme Court
The Eleventh Circuit recently upheld the conviction of "an international sex trafficker named 'Drac' (short for Dracula) who sometimes dressed up as a vampire, complete with yellow contact lenses and gold-plated fangs." Drac, also known as Damion St. Patrick Baston, a Jamaican pimp with a theatrical side, was convicted for sex trafficking across the globe, from Florida, to Australia, to the United Arab Emirates. Baston's criminal inspiration wasn't limited to Nosferatu, either. Baston taught himself to pimp by studying Pimpology, a how-to by "Pimpin' Ken."
Let's sink our teeth into this surprisingly true story, shall we?
A Truly Demonic Character
Like many vampires before him (Lestat, Dracula, even Sesame Street's Count von Count), Baston was a well-traveled man. He came from Jamaica to the United States in 1989, according to the Eleventh Circuit. After being convicted of an aggravated felony, Baston was removed in 1998, but soon returned under a false identity.
He didn't stay in one place for long, though, traveling under assumed names to Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the Emirates, Russia, China, and Brazil. And he funded his travels by forcing women into prostitution.
As the Eleventh Circuit puts it, "consistent with the fifth law of Pimpology, Baston 'prey[ed] on the weak' by recruiting women who were sexually abused as children."
(The opinion includes one of the most bizarre citations we've ever come across in a federal appellate opinion before: "See Pimpin' Ken, Pimpology: The 48 Laws of the Game 21 (2008).")
Baston controlled women with threats and violence, until he was arrested at his mother's house in New York and indicted on 21 counts, including sex trafficking and money laundering. At trial, Baston argued that he did not force or coerce women into prostitution. Further, since some of his victims were Australian, his actions were legal, since prostitution is not a crime in the Land of Oz. The jury wasn't convinced. Baston was convicted, sentenced to 27 years in prison, and ordered to pay over $99,000 in restitution.
If Prostitution Is Legal in Australia ...
On appeal, Baston attacked his conviction on several fronts. First, he objected to supplemental jury instructions provided by the court in response to jury questions about money laundering from Australia. The jurors wondered:
If prostitution is legal in [A]ustralia, and money was made there by those means, would it be illegal to transfer funds abroad? Specifical[l]y the United States? Which laws are we to consider?
The district court responded by explaining that "under U.S. law" using force, fraud, or coercion to cause someone to engage in a commercial sex act "is illegal, even if it took place outside the United States."
That, the Eleventh Circuit ruled, was not an abuse of discretion by the court. The supplemental instructions were "sufficiently clear and responsive to the jury's inquiry to fall squarely within the trial court's range of discretion." The instructions neither misled the jury nor misstated the law.
Baston also objected to his conviction on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence showing his sex trafficking effected interstate commerce. There was clear evidence of interstate trafficking, the Eleventh Circuit explained. But even if there was not, illegal acts that "ultimately occur intrastate" still affect interstate commerce when one "uses the channels or instrumentalities of interstate commerce," such as phones, the Internet, hotels, and buses.
But the district court's ruling did not fully withstand challenge. The court had refused to allow restitution for sex trafficking that occurred in Australia. That, the Eleventh Circuit held, was a mistake. "Congress has the power to require international sex traffickers to pay restitution to their victims even when the sex trafficking occurs exclusively in another country," be it Australia or Transylvania. In addition to 27 years off his immortal life, the Vampire Pimp could now owe his victims another $400,000 in restitution.