Sunday Commentary: The Phantom Human Trafficking Case

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The graphic the Yolo DA attached to its May 8 press release

The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a form of “modern-day slavery (which)  involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

In mid-May, during the heart of the district attorney’s race, the DA sent out a press release that Jeff Reisig, along with Winters Police Chief John Miller, would be holding a press conference the next day “to discuss the recent arrest of 21-year-old Contra Costa County resident Jeremiah Bessolo-Marsh.”

The charges were quite serious, as he was arrested on a no bail arrest warrant for felony charges that include: pimping and pandering; false imprisonment with sex trafficking; production of child pornography; possession of child pornography; knowingly allow a minor to sell nude and/or explicit material; unlawful sex with a minor; oral copulation with a minor; forcible penetration with a foreign object; furnishing illegal narcotics to a minor; and dissuading a victim or witness.

The press release added: “Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise and is an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry. It is very similar to modern day slavery and it exploits our most vulnerable populations. It is a form of organized crime in which human beings are treated as possessions.”

At the press conference, DA Reisig added: “Human trafficking, which is really just a modern-day form of slavery, is happening everywhere.  This is happening where you least expect it, and you need to be aware.”

The facts at the time were the defendant and the minor girl met at a party in Contra Costa County in September 2017 and she began running away from home in order to be with him.

They engaged in sexual behavior and, according to Detective David Gonzalez, “[i]n order for them to bring in some kind of funds, he persuaded her to sell videos, to commit sexual acts, and bring in money that way.”  He also allegedly supplied drugs to the girl, who stopped attending school.

“We believe Jeremiah has used our daughter to sell drugs, guns and pornographic images, according to social media messages discovered on her cell phone,” the mother wrote in a declaration in support of the protective order. “He has stated he will not stay away from her or out of her life.”

At the time the arrest was made, these charges seemed overly sensational and the decision to hold a press conference to discuss what this case appears to actually be is almost farcical.  Indeed, it makes light of a very serious international problem by overplaying the DA’s hand and overcharging the case.

After watching a portion of the preliminary hearing, that point was driven home this week.

There was enough evidence to hold the defendant to answer for the charges, but having watched the girl’s testimony a different picture emerged.

What happened was that they met a party and she fell in love with him.  She was 16.  He was a 21-year-old who had been in the military.

She ended up dropping out of school and spent nearly all her time with the defendant.  This occurred even after he became homeless and lost his job.

The couple used drugs together – cocaine, acid, and meth.  In order to support this drug habit and cover other expenses, they begged for money, sold drugs, and sold nude photos of her and videos on Snapchat.

Here’s the thing – the photo sales were her idea.  They were something that she had actually contemplated prior to meeting him.

But she ended up not liking doing it.  She also said that she fell in love with him and no longer wanted to sell the photos and focused on selling drugs as a way of making ends meet.  The one thing that did happen, however, was that he continued to sell the photos without her knowing about it.

Things would go downhill at this point.  Her family attempted to take out a restraining order against him.  In several interviews with law enforcement, she took the blame for the drug sales and withheld details of their sexual activity – apparently at his urging – which has resulted in the dissuading a witness charge.

She was placed in foster care in February, he was arrested, and she stopped using drugs and alcohol and began cooperating with authorities.

Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance noted that the girl admitted to having abused drugs and dating older men prior to meeting the defendant in this case.

“Ms. C came to the relationship trying to get away from her parents and her home life. … She was looking for a sugar daddy,” Ms. Lance argued in the preliminary hearing. “While her physical age was 16, the evidence presented at this hearing showed she was far more sophisticated in these matters than Mr. Bessolo.”

The point of this is not to defend the actions of the defendant here.  He clearly committed a variety of different crimes and used incredibly poor judgment.  But this is not a human trafficking case.

This is a guy who had sex with a 16-year-old (when he was 21), he used and sold drugs, and they sold nude photos of a minor.

This was not an effort to turn this girl into a prostitute.  There were a total of seven sales of photos in three days that totaled $250.  There needs to be perspective here.

He has no criminal history and is an army vet, but he now faces 22 years or more in prison for his actions.  No need to defend him, but this type of situation is not what human trafficking laws were designed to prevent or prosecute.

He made mistakes no doubt, and he needs to face consequences for those mistakes, but 22 years?

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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19 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: The Phantom Human Trafficking Case”

  1. Tia Will

    The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a form of “modern-day slavery (which)  involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

    This is an incredibly difficult situation based on an arbitrary age vs maturity distinction. We know that the time between when individuals act and function as adults is highly variable. In my own clinic, I have had late teens handle pregnancy related situations with far greater maturity than women in their twenties and thirties.

    And yet we have drawn a maturational line in the sand that on one side ( < 21)tends to exhonerate and on the other ( > 21) to villify. While it is impossible to justify his actions, I find it also impossible to justify her freely made choices ( drug and photo sales). As an individual who has frequently encountered these types of situations in my clinic, it is very difficult for me to see this as in any way related to the issue of human trafficking. It is a very apt illustration of poor  judgement which I saw as the major problem with the current DA. His tendency to bend circumstances to obtain the harshest charges possible through manipulation of emotional interpretations of events, rather than the actual events themselves demonstrates a willingness to pursue a purely punitive rather than a just outcome

  2. CTherese Benoit

    I really dislike our prison system… It’s just impossible to get anything right with it. The money we waste keeping murderous pedophiles housed, fed, and rotting could be spent actually rehabbing young adults like this one and returning him to society in a reasonable period of time (20 years is way too much and will break him before he’s even fully developed) to actually contribute value to the world.

    Very sad story. All around.

      1. CTherese Benoit

        Howard I think we must all first acknowledge that no system can be perfect and so we must do the best we can.

        Too many people are in prison. There should be better ways to deal with non violent criminals.

        Life sentences are nonsensical. You’re basically burying people alive in large communal coffins.

        If someone has committed a brutal murder or near equally damaging act of  violence against a child – it is most logical to give them a lethal injection UNLESS doing so would further harm their victim. (E.g. Cases where a drug addicted parent may have abused their own child, but without killing them. Those people should be sentenced to max 5 years with intensive rehab therapy and monitoring upon release. A kid that’s survived abuse by their parent should not also be saddled with guilt for their parent’s execution).

        When someone is given a swift lethal injection they should be granted one last wish (within reason) and allowed to make a request for where their ashes go after entrusting the responsibility to a friend/family member. A bit of money should be granted by the state to that family member to travel wherever requested and leave the departed’s ashes.

        If the murderer/violent pedo is wealthy, his/her victims should be automatically added to their will with entitlements equal to a direct heir.

        Incidental murders should be sentenced to maximum of 10 years with a release or execute determination being decided at the end of that period. If released they must pay something like alimony/child support to their victim’s survivors for the rest of the felon’s natural life. If the felon outlives the survivors, the money will continue to be paid out to survivors next of kin.

        People who kill out of vigilante justice – where their motives are compelling; never should be sentenced to more than 5 years.

  3. Justine Mistry

    The irony is that a drug-addicted, homeless 21-year-old Army vet with no criminal history is precisely the sort of defendant you’d expect the current DA—based on his recent election campaign and claims of progressivism—to rehabilitate, or put through one of his widely talked about restorative justice programs.

  4. CTherese Benoit

    Thank you Howard. Many of my friends are adamantly opposed to the death penalty… I think maybe it has to do with what people expect from life and how we feel about death. For me; life imprisonment would be 100x worse than dying sans decades of torture and with some sliver of integrity left intact.

    I think one neutral step would be to allow lifers the OPTION of a humane assisted suicide. So often they are drugged up instead just to be forced to live out sentences… drugged… and miserable but for a very unnatural state… doing absolutely nothing whatsoever worth the smallest carbon footprint… and at the cost of millions of dollars… I just don’t get it.

    That said; I am an idealist and would love if one of the few unclaimed or isolated territories became a sort of “survival of the fittest” environment where offenders had the opportunity to start fresh and either survive or perish among their own kind. But I am sure that would never happen, unless the world were in a total dystopian state anyway.

  5. CTherese Benoit

    It is really hard for me to believe that any (sober) person would want to stay alive in prison for years on end…

    The big one: Isolated and totally useless to everyone you love

    the rest of the dailies to make “life” horrid:

    Shacked up with a bunch of people you probably would not want to nod hello to on an ordinary day on the outside

    Access to personal hygiene products is limited for you.. and all your roommates (yuck). What is air conditioning even like on the inside?

    A choice between disgusting food prepared by someone with poor hygiene or else starvation for all eternity

    A choice between forced homosexuality or else celibacy for all eternity (review the hygiene too if this isn’t gross enough on it’s own for most people).

    The only change in view or exposure to culture comes from whether you are inside or outside of your cell for the day and how many foreign born felons you’re locked up with – many of whom belong to violent gangs that might shank you with a dagger made of toothpicks.

    Oh ya, you probably have to join a race gang. This would really suck for me since Im biracial and would no doubt end up being bullied and prison wifed within whatever gang accepted me. LOL! 😛

    Having to periodically prove yourself in some gnarly violent bloodfest over whether you stole someone’s pack of noodles or owe them a pair of socks from the last game of dominos/checkers etc etc. Your nose may get broken and you may lose a few teeth, but so what IF you win the noodles back along with a tough reputation. :-/

    Your physical health and vitality would deteriorate EXTRA fast due to poor nutrition and lack of access to basic luxuries and self-care…

    Why would anyone want this over death??? To stay alive for the next big noodle win??? I just don’t get it.

  6. Jim Hoch

    It is really hard for me to believe that any (sober) person would want to stay alive in prison for years on end…
    >People in many places have lived in worse conditions. Serfs in the middle ages for example.
    The big one: Isolated and totally useless to everyone you love
    > Not that big a deal. Family is just a hassle.
    Shacked up with a bunch of people you probably would not want to nod hello to on an ordinary day on the outside
    > Many may be your associates and people move through constantly
    Access to personal hygiene products is limited for you.. and all your roommates (yuck). What is air conditioning even like on the inside?
    > Many prisoners have quite good personal hygiene and spend a lot of time on pressing their clothes, Got to look sharp on the yard!
    A choice between disgusting food prepared by someone with poor hygiene or else starvation for all eternity
    > See note above re “serfs”
    A choice between forced homosexuality or else celibacy for all eternity (review the hygiene too if this isn’t gross enough on it’s own for most people).
    >Many people have less sex than you seem to imagine
    The only change in view or exposure to culture comes from whether you are inside or outside of your cell for the day and how many foreign born felons you’re locked up with – many of whom belong to violent gangs that might shank you with a dagger made of toothpicks.
    >Sharpened tooth brushes are the weapon of choice.
    Oh ya, you probably have to join a race gang. This would really suck for me since Im biracial and would no doubt end up being bullied and prison wifed within whatever gang accepted me. LOL! 😛
    > No, you’d be a shotcaller for sure
    Having to periodically prove yourself in some gnarly violent bloodfest over whether you stole someone’s pack of noodles or owe them a pair of socks from the last game of dominos/checkers etc etc. Your nose may get broken and you may lose a few teeth, but so what IF you win the noodles back along with a tough reputation. :-/
    > More interesting than talking about what the Kardashians are doing. Also see note above re “Serf”
    Your physical health and vitality would deteriorate EXTRA fast due to poor nutrition and lack of access to basic luxuries and self-care…
    >Many inmates live a lot longer in prison than they would on the street
    Why would anyone want this over death??? To stay alive for the next big noodle win??? I just don’t get it.
    >If you haven’t tried it….

    1. Jeff M

      LOL.  Nice back and forth.

      I think there is a fine point here that life situations – a person’s opinion of such – are relative to experience.  There are people that consider my cabin in the mountains roughing it.  While others that backpack the Pacific Trail would consider it an opulent and unnecessary scene of luxury.

      People can become inconsolably-angry when their flight is delayed or they get bumped… from the experience of screaming 600 MPH in an aluminum tube at 30,000 ft to reach their 3000 mile away destination in a 6 hours.

      I have a close relative that has been homeless for 35 years.  Just recently, at age 81, got a state benefit that provides a tiny studio apartment in a complex that houses many other once homeless people.  The locals are unstable, the bathroom never smells quite right and there was a bed bug infestation they just cleared up.  However, my relative says he has never been happier in the last 40 years (ironically that includes the first five years before he became homeless).

      If somebody asked me what is the most valuable gift you could give another person, I would say “perspective”.   When a human mind begins to form an opinion, it should pull in a tremendous trove of reference data to provide perspective.  When my smart phone app locks up and I have to reboot it, before I lose my temper I pull in reference data for how much effort it took before the advent of cell phones to make a call (find a pay phone… hope you have some spare change), and before Al Gore’s Internet invention how much effort it took to find the answers to obscure questions about almost anything (go to the library).    Perspective can also help prevent the malady of projecting… that is projecting personal life experiences and emotions onto the experiences of others.  We are really good (bad) at that in the City of All Things Right and Relevant.  We are absolutely sure we have reached a pinnacle of human cognitive transcendence that enables us to recognize and diagnose all human trauma, tragedy, unfairness and harm… and thus we remain righteous in our demands that the system “helps” all the people we project as needing help.  Some do.  Some didn’t even think they needed any help until the righteous told them they did.  Their perspective got blown up!

      Like for many illegal immigrants.  They show up and immediately the righteous project trauma, tragedy, unfairness and harm… when the more likely rational perspective is that life back home was not so bad… it was only the money and benefits to be had if they can get their foot across the El Norte line with some children along.  Then once here for a while, their perspective degrades into being a victim of darker skin groups getting less than some other groups.  They basically lose their perspective because they stop pulling their reference data from where they started.

      From my perspective, I think prison would really s _ _ k.  It is one of the great reasons to obey the laws.   However, for some it might be a step up.

      1. CTherese Benoit

        Good points; I definitely can appreciate the power of perspective…

        Which is why I think prisoners serving long sentences should at least be given the freedom to decide whether they want to “live” or die. Since their death saves money; why keep them alive against their will and at great expense? Seems silly to me.

        Agreed on the laws but I have also known the law to be rather fallible. When it is; is a person to submit themselves to it, regardless of the injustice? Rosa Parks broke the law. So did tons of runaway slaves. Not trying to make a racial reference; just too tired (working late) and limited in historical knowledge to cite many more well known references.

        I feel like there’s this strange expectation that people just accept injustices with some bright sided delusional expectation that some good could come out of it. I have always been an optimist but have learned through disappointment that awful circumstances seldom have a silver lining. Sometimes they just get worse. Unfortunate truth.

  7. CTherese Benoit

    I don’t know; I’ve had it tough but maybe I am pickier than a lot of people on some things. Definitely a picky eater… and if you follow astrology – dont judge me; Cusp Of Revolutions should never be forced into company with people they don’t like. We become obnoxious).

    I don’t want to offend but the men are probably better about going extra miles to be meticulous, well groomed, physically fit under those conditions.. I am not sure what it is that has the opposite effect on the two genders.

    Women, on the other hand, locked up amongst each other would finally be “freed” to let themselves go in the extreme, be extra natural, relaxed, and meh…

    I won’t cite examples because I am sure I will accidentally offend people, but this phenomena frequently happens in two communities. Meh, I can’t go for that… no can do.

    For/Against the death penalty – lifers should at least be allowed to choose. It only makes sense.

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