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Out & About in Cleveland

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Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce Morning Buzz; 2017 NEO National Human Trafficking Day Conference

On Friday, January 13th, we started our day by getting up early and driving to the Hilton Garden Inn in Akron where we attended a "Morning Buzz" networking/information session put on monthly by the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce.

 The speaker for the day was Ms. Stephanie York, VP of Hennes Communications, who talked about crisis management and steps a firm can take to lessen the impact of a damaging incident to its reputation. Ms. York emphasized that dealing with the media at such a time is a very delicate matter but it is best to approach them before they approach you and then to tell the truth and hold back nothing because chances are that they will find out about it anyway.

During the time allotted for networking, we talked to Ms. Rose Bartolomucci, President/CEO of Towpath Credit Union which has a branch in North Hill where many Bhutanese refugees live. We also met a person who had a family member (through marriage) who made use of the services of Ms. Margaret W. Wong when he/she immigrated to the United States from the United Kingdom years ago.

 As we were leaving, we met an entrepreneur who told us that some of her employees are foreign-born so, just in case a situation dealing with immigration proceedings should present itself, she wisely connected with Ms. Wong on linked in.

After we left Akron, we hurried to Notre Dame College in South Euclid for the 2017 NEO National Human Trafficking Day Conference put on in the Performing Arts Center by the Renee Jones Empowerment Center which lasted for most of the day.

 The presentation that particularly interested us, since it dealt specifically with the exploitation of immigrant labor, was given by Mr. Matthew Komar, FBI Special Agent, and concerned the case of the "United States v. Castillo-Serrano, et al.

Very briefly, this case concerned unscrupulous (to say the least) people who conned young men (ages 13-17) and their families living in Huehuetenango, Guatemala into paying them large sums of money to smuggle the youngsters into the United States where they supposedly would be put to work, treated well, and receive education as well as opportunities to become legal residents here.

This was a falsity; instead the kids were shipped to egg farms in Central Ohio where they were forced to work 10-16 hour shifts each day and to live in squalid conditions in nearby trailer parks.

What was really odious was how these human traffickers twisted a good law that allows undocumented young people to remain in the United States provided they have family members living legally in the U.S. by creating fake relatives and phony sponsorships.

 Fortunately a genuine relative living here in the U.S. got wind of what was taking place and notified the F.B.I. and, after doing a lot of painstaking, piece-by-piece investigation, Agent Komar was able to put a case together that resulted in a trailer park being raided and the youngsters rescued in December, 2014.

Thankfully, the culprits have since been convicted and the victims have been granted "T visas" to remain in the United States; in fact, Agent Komar sponsored them.

 We have gone to these Human Trafficking programs before and it is always good to see Ms. Renee Jones and Sister Cecilia Liberatore, both of whom have done so much to help people. In terms of progress, Sister Cecilia told us that last year's RNC did a lot to bring together the various legal, governmental, law enforcement, and health/human services agencies of Northeast Ohio and efforts are now better coordinated.

Excellent presentations were also given by Professor Maureen Kenny of the CWRU School of Law who was instrumental in establishing the law school's Human Trafficking Law Clinic; Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Marilyn B. Cassidy who presides over the Human Trafficking Specialized Docket that was established in 2014; Ms. Kathleen Hackett, pediatric SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) coordinator at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital; and Ms. Maria Busch, Anti-Trafficking Program Assistant for the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.

 Between the presentations, Ms. Jones interviewed two victims of human trafficking who courageously (with the love and support of many people) have managed to get their lives together and are now very involved in the Center where they continue to receive assistance and help others themselves.

 Probably, the words that best summoned up the spirit of this program were said by Detective Shane Bates, a person who has been working in law enforcement for 17 years and has devoted a lot of time to apprehending human traffickers and helping their victims.

 Detective Bates said that if one really wants to put an end to this heinous practice and make a difference in the lives of its victims, "you must care, you must be approachable, and you must listen."

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

Kwasi Bediako