October 26 for Casa Blanca case

POSTED: 07/26/16 6:44 PM

St. Maarten News —The infamous Casa Blanca case will be heard in court on October 26. The case involves the exploitation of women, deprivation of liberty and human trafficking at the brothel known as Casa Blanca in Oyster Pond. The decision to hear the case on that day was made in the court of First Instance. On November 16, Casa Blanca’s owner and three managers were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.

The case has been seen as very instrumental in the government’s fight against human trafficking and was given special mention in the Human Trafficking Report from the US Secretary of State John Kerry. The report disclosed that St. Maarten has been upgraded to a Tier 1 category, meaning it has made significant progress in the fight against human trafficking. In the Casa Blanc investigation, local prosecutor’s office worked together with the Prosecutor’s Office of the Dominican Republic. Based on the investigations, the three main suspects were arrested on suspicion of exploitation of women from that country. The fourth suspect was arrested later for firearm possession. The investigation also included house searches.

A request has been made by the Chief Prosecutor of St. Maarten to the Minister of Justice to suspend Casa Blanca’s business licence while awaiting further criminal investigation and the verdict.

On Wednesday, the suspects A.T.M.R. (38), D.J.E. (32) and J.P.R. (44) were brought before the judge charged with involvement in human trafficking between the period January 1, 2010 and November 16, 2015 as well as with deprivation of the liberty of female workers at Casa Blanca. Illegal firearm possession charges were levied against J.P.R. and A.T.M.R. other charges relating to financial crimes may also be added including false sales tax declarations and failure to file for profit tax.

Two previous pro-forma hearings were held on March 9 and 14. This was to allow some 12 witnesses to provide evidence in the case. This was done on ht einsisnect of Attorny Shaira Bommel of the defendants. She is arguing for a release of her clients. The case, the Prosecutor’s Office noted includes 35 declarations of former employees, confessing that they were lured to St. Maarten under false pretence and held against their will, while being forced to provide paid sexual services.

The Prosecutor insisted that the suspects remain incarcerated as the witnesses had testified about the deprivation of liberty. Witnesses say they have debts of up to US $3,500 and had o pay off these debts with a $60 fee for sexual services. They were threatened with violence and extortion.

In the end, the Judge did not lift the pre-trial detention, citing enough information that the suspects were involved in serious crimes and exploitation.

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