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 was sentenced Wednesday to 24 months, twelve of which were suspended, on two years’ probation, for the trafficking and exploitation of a number of women working in the two establishments.
The Court found Mayoline J. Peterson (42) guilty of trafficking women and of illegally employing 27 women from Venezuela, Colombia and the Dominican Republic at Hypnotic between January 1 and October 24, 2016.
She was also found guilty of trafficking and exploiting women at Casa Blanca brothel, where she worked as a secretary from February 1, 2010, to January 26, 2015, but was acquitted of deprivation of liberty of the sex workers involved.
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 Peterson’s case, the Prosecution had called for a prison sentence of four years. She had vehemently denied that she was an accessory to the crimes committed by management of Casa Blanca’s family business. But the Court did not follow her statement that she was a subordinate without the power to make decisions. She also claimed she had not been aware of any “abuse.”
However, the Court held Peterson partly responsible for the deplorable conditions and harsh regime under which the women had to live and work at Casa Blanca.
According to the Judge, she had been involved in the recruitment of women, had explained the strict house rules to them and had managed the elaborate system of fines.
Peterson 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 and undocumented prostitutes were found in her establishment, after which she was arrested.
Pleadings claiming the defendant had no other choice because Government had been negligent in issuing permits were dismissed.
In sentencing, the Court stated it did not consider a lengthy prison term suitable because Government had failed to sufficiently supervise the “vulnerable” industry. Therefore, Casa Blanca alone could not be held fully responsible for the abuse, the Judge reasoned
“After she left Casa Blanca, the manager of club Hypnotic housed women for profit, while she knew that these women were staying illegally. She assisted the women to come to St. Maarten in the knowledge that the women were planning to work as prostitutes in her club.
“The defendant was well aware that the required labour and employment permits were missing. Nevertheless, she allowed the women to live and work in the club. In this way, she deliberately violated the law and thwarted Government policies on combating illegal immigration and illegal employment,” the Judge stated.
The Court said that Peterson’s relatively minor role in the Casa Blanca case in itself merited a fully conditional sentence, but her behaviour in the Hypnotic case had demonstrated her “contempt for the law,” which led the Court to impose a custodial sentence after all.