Texas woman sentenced to 12 years in prison for her role in international Thai sex trafficking organization

 

Date: September 17, 2020

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

Waralee Wanless was sentenced to 144 months in prison for her role in a massive international sex trafficking organization that was responsible for coercing hundreds of Thai women to engage in commercial sex acts across the United States. Wanless was sentenced on September 16, 2020, by Senior Judge Donovan Frank in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Following a six-week trial, on December 12, 2018, a federal jury convicted Wanless and four other defendants for their roles in operating the sex trafficking enterprise. Thirty-one defendants pleaded guilty prior to the 2018 trial. To date, 30 defendants have been sentenced.

As proven at trial, the sex trafficking organization coerced hundreds of women from Bangkok, Thailand, to engage in commercial sex acts in various cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, and Austin. The trafficking victims were forced to participate in the criminal scheme through misleading promises of a better life in the United States and the ability to provide money to their families in Thailand. Once in the United States, the victims were sent to houses of prostitution, including several that Wanless ran in Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., where they were forced to have sex with strangers – every day – for up to 12 hours a day, at times having sex with 10 men a day. The victims were isolated from the outside world, and their families in Thailand were threatened.

As proven at trial, the organization also engaged in widespread visa fraud to facilitate the international transportation of the victims and engaged in rampant and sophisticated money laundering in order to promote and conceal illegal profits. During the extensive investigation, law enforcement traced tens of millions of dollars to the organization.

Multiple agencies assisted in this investigation over the past five years including: the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; the Department of Justice's Criminal Division's Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit; the St. Paul Police Department; the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force; the Anoka County Sheriff's Office; the Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff's Office; the State Department Diplomatic Security Service; and the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2). United States Attorney MacDonald also thanks the Thai Community Development Center for the support and advocacy they have done on behalf of the victims of this sex trafficking organization.

Assistant United States Attorneys Melinda Williams, Laura Provinzino, and Craig Baune are prosecuting the case.