PHILIPSBURG–The Court of Appeals on Friday upheld the convictions of management of Casa Blanca brothel in Oyster Pond. In April 2017, the Court of First instance convicted the five suspects in this case of human trafficking, but acquitted them of deprivation of liberty.
Casa Blanca’s Manager Augusto T.M. Reiph (41) was sentenced to 730 days in prison, 385 of which were suspended, on two years’ probation, and payment of a NAf. 15,000 fine. The Appeals Court found it legally and convincingly proven that Reiph was guilty of trafficking and that he had failed to file taxes. These crimes were committed between January 2010 and November 16, 2015.
His sister, assistant manager Jessica Priscilla Reiph (47), who was also convicted of illegal firearm possession, received the same punishment as her brother.
The Prosecutor’s Office had requested six years in prison for Manager Reiph and imprisonment of five years and six months for his sister. Both defendants also had to pay NAf. 200,000 in fines for tax crimes, or spend 365 days in prison in case of non-compliance, if it were up to the Prosecution.
Owner of the Casa Blanca establishment Calma Josephine Priest (69) was sentenced to 90 days, 46 of which were suspended, on two years’ probation, and assistant manager and member of the family David Jonathan Eustace (34) was sentenced to six months, three of which were suspended, on two years’ probation. The Solicitor-General had demanded a prison sentence of four years for Priest and of 342 days for Eustace.
Former operator of the now defunct Hypnotic Hotel and former secretary at Casa Blanca Mayline J. Peterson (43) received a punishment of 12 months, six of which were suspended, on two years’ probation.
The company Casa Blanca NV was found guilty of tax evasion, for which it was sentenced to payment of a NAf. 30,000 fine, which was equal to the Prosecutor’s Office’s demand.
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 a number of tax crimes to the amount of NAf. 430,000.
The Prosecutor’s Office considered the charges proven and demanded long prison sentences. In calling for lengthy prison sentences, the Prosecution found it legally and convincingly proven that a large number of women had been exploited for the financial gain of the adult entertainment centre’s owners and managers.
The defence lawyers pleaded for their clients’ acquittal, but following the lesser court, the Court of Appeals also found human trafficking proven, based on witness statements provided by women who had been working at Casa Blanca.
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.
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.
Following the lesser court, the Appellate Court also did not find deprivation of liberty proven, as it could not be ascertained that the women were kept in the brothel against their will.
In the Court’s opinion, the defence did not sufficiently substantiate how the Prosecutor’s Office could have given the suspects the impression that the crimes committed would fall under the Government of St. Maarten’s policy of tolerance with regard to prostitution and clubs in general.
According to the Appeals Court judges, this element in the defence pleadings was insufficiently substantiated, as the government policy could not be directly attributed to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The judge in the Court of First Instance had said in April 2017 that government was partly to be blamed for the “continued existence of the abuse” at Casa Blanca.
Government should have called Casa Blanca to order during inspections and had failed to point out the difficult situation in which the women employees had found themselves, the judge said at the time.