Adult centre operator and secretary facing four years

PHILIPSBURG–The former operator of the now defunct Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment N.V. in Sucker Garden and former secretary at Casa Blanca brothel in Oyster Pond may be facing four years imprisonment, as the Prosecutor’s Office is holding her responsible for the trafficking and exploitation of a number of women working in both establishments. The Judge will give his decision in this case February 7, he stated at the end of Thursday’s hearing.

M.J.P. (42) is suspected of human smuggling and of illegally employing 27 women from Venezuela, Colombia and the Dominican Republic at Hypnotic between January 1 and October 24, 2016. She is also suspected of trafficking and exploiting women at Casa Blanca brothel, where she worked from February 1, 2010, to January 26, 2015, and of deprivation of liberty of the sex workers involved.
P., whose partner is currently involved with the operation of Defiance Haven, is accused of exploiting the women working under her management. The women allegedly were misled and had to work under very bad labour conditions and had to hand over a large part of their earnings.
Her co-defendants and former colleagues at Casa Blanca were tried and sentenced in the Court of First Instance last year. In April 2017, Casa Blanca management was convicted of involvement in human trafficking, but acquitted of deprivation of liberty.
Manager Augusto T.M. Reiph and his sister, assistant manager Jessica P. Reiph, were both sentenced to two years, one of which was suspended, on two years’ probation. They also each had to pay a fine of NAf. 15,000 for non-payment of turnover and profit taxes.
In total, four members of the family operating the king-size brothel were prosecuted for human trafficking, illegal restraint and possession of illegal firearms. They also had to answer to charges of tax crimes.
In these cases, the Prosecution found it legally and convincingly proven that a large number of women were exploited for the financial gain of the adult entertainment centre’s owners and managers. This also included their former secretary, the Prosecutor said Thursday.
According to the Court, Casa Blanca’s management financially exploited prostitutes, mainly from the Dominican Republic, for years. Stricken by poverty, the women often saw no other option than engaging in prostitution.
The women had to do their job in Casa Blanca under very difficult circumstances, the Court said last year. Two women had to sleep in one room, in which they also had to work. They paid an unreasonable amount of rent for the room. In addition, the women were held in check by a strict penalty system. According to the Court, the defendants abused the vulnerable position of the women employed in their establishment.
The Prosecutor’s Office also holds P. responsible for the deplorable conditions and harsh regime under which the women had to live and work at Casa Blanca. According to the Prosecutor, she had been involved in the recruitment of women in Venezuela, had explained the strict house rules to them and had managed the elaborate system of fines.
Following the Court, which had not found deprivation of liberty proven in the cases of the co-suspects, as it could not be ascertained that the women were kept in the brothel against their will, the Prosecutor also called for P.’s acquittal on this charge.
According to the Prosecutor, Augusto Reiph’s cousin David Eustace, who had taken over P.’s job after she left the establishment, was a co-perpetrator in this case, as he had played an important role in the business, albeit for a shorter period of time. He was sentenced to 342 days in jail.
P. denied that Eustace had had the same job and responsibilities she had had. She said Eustace was a member of the family management and she was not.
She had only played a subordinate role in the organisation. “I only did my work as a secretary and received payment as a secretary. I did not receive a corporate salary and never received a cent of the girls’ earnings.”
Attorney Jairo Bloem contested that his client had been closely involved with Casa Blanca’s business operations.
“She was not a bookkeeper, but merely a secretary,” he said. “She had no leading role. … And what if she explained the fine system? She did not invent it and did not earn a dime from it.”
P. started her operations at Hypnotic on January 31, 2015. From December 16, 2015, the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour no longer provided residence and work permits for exotic dancers, effectively disallowing Hypnotic and other sex clubs in St. Maarten to legally employ sex workers from abroad.
During a raid on October 24, 2016, 27 illegal prostitutes were found in her establishment, after which P. was arrested. She claimed that she had no knowledge of whether these girls were illegal or not, as they themselves were responsible for that. The women had paid for their own airplane tickets and had entered the island on tourist visas.
“My hotel is the same as other hotels. I am certain that also in other hotels ladies are renting rooms to provide their services. Nobody is looking into that, so why by me?” P. had told the police.
In this case, the Prosecutor’s Office is holding her responsible for human smuggling and illegal employment of 27 sex workers.
According to lawyer Jairo Bloem, his client had no other choice due to the government moratorium on permits, which in his opinion should lead to inadmissibility of the Prosecutor’s case against his client and to her full acquittal for absence of guilt.
“My client had no other choice. The Hypnotic curators should also be suspects in this case, as they were responsible for the business results,” Bloem claimed. Hypnotic’s bankruptcy was declared October 4, 2016.

Source: The Daily Herald