Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
A woman who says she was sold for sex as a teenager is suing an Albuquerque motel and the now-closed Backpage website, alleging both businesses had a hand in allowing her to be trafficked.
The lawyers who filed the suit have already filed 20 similar ones in Texas, but this is the first in New Mexico. They say they are attempting to shine a light on the many different ways human trafficking is able to flourish.
And attorney Annie McAdams said her legal team doesn’t intend to agree to a settlement.
“Our Jane Does were ones – the ones that we chose to file on – who are doing this for more than just money,” she said. “We are looking for a significant disruption in the status quo in the human trafficking and hospitality world.”
Since January 2018, McAdams and her co-counsel David Harris have filed numerous cases alleging hotels, trucking companies and even Facebook facilitated sex trafficking or failed to recognize clear signs someone was being trafficked. They have also filed numerous suits against Backpage – a website known for advertising adult services.
Their first case will go to trial in April.
McAdams said their latest case, filed in 2nd Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County, involves a woman from a suburban area in Albuquerque whom they identify as “Jane Doe #17.”
She said that when the woman was 17, she fell in love with a man who said he was her boyfriend and then trafficked her at different locations around the city from 2013 to 2014.
One of those locations was the Midtown Motel 6 on University NE near the Big I.
The suit alleges the motel “had a duty to exercise reasonable care in discovering that the danger of human trafficking as well as the trafficking of Jane Doe #17 occurred or was likely to occur at the Subject Motel.”
It says the motel failed to properly train staff to look for signs of human trafficking, failed to prevent traffickers from renting a room and didn’t install security devices that could have helped deter or identify human traffickers.
“The evidence is pretty strong (for) that hotel knowing what was going on due to the frequency of the visitors to the room,” McAdams said. “As well as that, she was a minor and was brought on the premises by somebody that didn’t register a guest.”
Motel 6 did not respond to questions or requests for comment.
The same motel made headlines in 2017 when a man was shot to death in one of the rooms because of his alleged connections to a sex trafficking ring.
Federal authorities said 39-year-old Daryl Young had been killed by a hitman who was hired by a married couple running a sex trafficking ring. Authorities said Young and trafficking victim Tobi Stanfill were killed “at the direction of Cornelius Galloway because their activities were contrary to the objectives of the criminal sex trafficking organization.”
Their case is pending in federal court.
Much of Galloway’s business relied on posting advertisements on backpage.com, according to court records.
Jane Doe’s lawsuit states that Backpage would “sanitize” advertisements, taking out words that would point to underage sex trafficking, like “Lolita,” “school girl,” “innocent” and “amber alert.”
“Backpage was aware that Backpage’s website was used for the advertisement and sale of young women, including Jane Doe #17, for sexual exploitation,” the suit states. “Despite this knowledge, Backpage refused to take reasonable steps to prevent the trafficking of Jane Doe #17 and other similarly situated young women.”
The website was shut down in April after Congress passed legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute websites for advertising human trafficking.
Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate prostitution and to engaging in money laundering.
Seven other officials were charged in federal court and their cases are still pending, according to online court records.
But McAdams said the story isn’t over. The lawsuit seeks compensation for medical expenses, non-medical expenses, pain and suffering, attorney fees and more.
“There are still extraordinary harms and losses caused to this population, and Backpage should be held accountable,” she said. “So we have not ceased our efforts against them.”