While a sensational sex-trafficking case seems to have lost some of its salacious appeal, the attorney for a defendant in the case is trying to put some sizzle back in — by suggesting the cops were also customers at an alleged brothel connected to the case.
For San Francisco federal prosecutors, the press release last summer announcing 29 arrests seems to have been the high point for Operation Gilded Cage. Since then, what started out as a massive alien smuggling/sex trafficking prosecution has been reduced — through a series of dismissals and guilty pleas to lesser charges — to a prostitution ring case garnished with some alien harboring charges.
If Steven Gruel has his way, the lofty language of that July 1, 2005, press release (the prosecution “is a testament to the FBI’s commitment in investigating sophisticated human trafficking cases. These alleged illicit activities erode our social fabric and feed the coffers of many criminal enterprises,” FBI Special Agent Arthur Balizan is quoted as saying) will come back to haunt the government.
Gruel represents Anthony Lau, a defendant in the case, and he’s attached the press statement as an exhibit to his latest pleading, which calls into question a government search warrant with a verve rarely seen in court papers.
Gruel calls into question the government’s evidence to justify the search, and says its investigative work was limited to figuring out where Lau lived. “That’s it!” Gruel wrote.
But the most interesting point he makes in the filing comes later on. As support for his request for a hearing to determine whether investigators acted improperly in getting their warrant, Gruel writes that “Law enforcement were ‘customers’ at the Golden Flower,” Lau’s alleged brothel.
“According to the prosecution’s witness reports, individuals employed in law enforcement were ‘customers’ at the Golden Flower. The Lau defense is investigating these government reports to determine what impact this shocking information has on [FBI] Agent Rhea’s representations, and/or omissions, from his master affidavit,” Gruel wrote. But that’s all he says on the point. Reached by phone Tuesday, Gruel said he couldn’t make the discovery public, but is continuing to look into the matter.
— Justin Scheck