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San Diego Adult Website Owner Charged With Child Sex Trafficking

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The new charges come amid the ongoing civil fraud trial against owner Michael Pratt. The civil trial is expected to wrap up this week.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A San Diego civil trial against the distributor of pornographic material has now expanded into a federal criminal sex trafficking case. The civil case revolves around San Diego based girls do porn website owners and 22 women who say they were duped into filming porn videos they were told would not be distributed online. Now the website operator has been charged in federal court with producing child porn and sex trafficking. Courthouse news reporter Bianca Bruno has been following the case and she joins me now. Hi Bianca. Hi. In regards to the civil trial, tell us how the girls do porn operation worked. I read that the women were flown into San Diego, so basically their niche was that the women were supposed to be amateurs. They were very young. They were between 18 to 22 years old. And so they were not supposed to be professional porn stars or porn actors. And they, um, responded to modeling ads posted on Craigslist.

Speaker 1: 01:06 Some testified during the trial in state court the past couple months. They knew that the shoots would either be clothed or naked. Some of them kind of had different circumstances, but they did not know originally that they were being recruited to shoot porn videos. Um, eventually that came out. However, they were told that the videos would be produced for DVDs sold overseas. Um, it was not for online porn. And so that's why they say they agreed to participate. And did the contracts, the women's sign ins, in fact, did they say the videos could be distributed online? The contracts did not specifically mention anything about online. The contracts were fairly vague. They were uh, produced to women after some of them had been drinking and smoking marijuana. Um, and most of them testify they didn't really understand what it said. The girls do. Porn is involved with all these different sort of, um, what the plaintiffs have alleged are shell entities.

Speaker 1: 02:08 And so it may have mentioned one of those names, which was like a vague media company name, but it did not mention online porn and it didn't even mention the name of the website. Um, they said that they didn't even find out about girls do porn until their video got posted online and their friends and family and let them know. And apparently in testimony in court, girls do. Porn was still recruiting and uploading videos during the civil trial. Yeah. So Wolf testified to that the actor that the male actor that the girls do porn website employees. Um, Andre Garcia, that he was still recruiting on behalf of the company during the trial and later on a woman designated as Jane DOE a, she was an in addition to the 22 women, uh, in the lawsuit, she came forward and testified and said that she shot a video with a company in and found out it got posted online in September.

Speaker 1: 03:02 The trial started in August. So this was in the midst of of trial. What can you tell us about girls do porn owner, Michael Pratt, he is from New Zealand. He moved to the States shortly after he turned 18. And what's interesting is he came here specifically to work in the porn industry at that young age. And apparently because our laws regarding the creation of porn are less strict than in New Zealand, according to the federal charges against the company that were filed, they're worth about 17 million I think. And so they're kind of a household name. They have sort of online community that verily very closely follows what they do. And you know, when the civil trial started this fall, he apparently went back to New Zealand and now he's considered a fugitive. Okay. So fast forward to last week when Pratt was indicted on child sex trafficking charges, what are the claims being made against him?

Speaker 1: 04:06 So that's in relation to an apparent, um, incident in 2012, which is a year before the women involved in the civil lawsuit started, uh, working, uh, with Pratt and his employees. And so this was before, you know, the, the case was filed in 2016 so it's, it's a fairly old charge. Um, but apparently he induced a 16 year old to fly to San Diego to shoot a porn video with him. It's not clear exactly if it is with girls to porn. Um, but it was with him and in the creation of his videos and if, if he's convicted, what kind of sentences Pratt facing in this criminal case, he could face life in prison. Originally they only filed human trafficking charges in relation to kind of inducing women to appear in the videos based on cores and analyze the child sex trafficking and porn charge was added last week.

Speaker 1: 05:05 And basically that is a charge that subject to the extradition treaty with the U S and New Zealand spleen and he's there. And so the hope is that, you know, he'll come here and face charges in federal court, but as of today, it's not clear where he is. Back to the civil case for just a moment, what are the women asking for? So they are asking for, you know, millions and damages. Um, a lot of them have, uh, testified to suffering from depression. A couple testified during the trial that they actually attempted suicide. Um, and basically they have these ongoing lingering, uh, issues in relation to basically being doxed online and you know, their lives being ruined from appearing in these videos. They also want the rights to their videos, so they want to be able to take them down. As of last week, some of the Jane Doe's videos were still posted on the girls do porn website and you know, the, the judges ordered that they be taken down.

Speaker 1: 06:08 Um, but the logistics of that were a bit complicated because of the criminal case and the fact that the employees are now in federal custody. What happens next? And Hey, both or either of these cases. So in December there is another court hearing in the criminal case, in the civil case that's still ongoing. The trial is still ongoing. They may wrap up things next week and then judge Kevin emright who's in San Diego superior court, he'll be the one ultimately deciding, uh, what happens in terms of if the women are awarded damages and the rights to their videos. It's a what's called a bench trial, which basically means the judge decides there's no jury in this case. I've been speaking to courthouse news reporter Bianca Bruno. Bianca, thank you. Thanks.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.