A Hungarian man will spend 11 years in prison for luring his countrymen to the United States and forcing them to have sex with johns in the bathrooms of New York and Miami around the clock, according to the Miami Herald.He faced up to 155 years.
The sentencing Tuesday of Andras Vass, 26, in Miami, is the first in Florida for the human trafficking of gay men, according to the paper. Prosecutors said Vass and two other Hungarian men awaiting trial targeted impoverished men in Hungary and enticed them to come to the United States using a website called gayromeo.com. The victims were all in their 20s and were flown to New York for what they believed was going to be a legal business.
The victims "believed they would only be in New York for a few months to make tens of thousands of dollars before returning to their homeland and their families," Homeland Security Investigations agent Melissa Pavlikowski wrote in an arrest warrant, according to the Herald and Miami TV station WPLG.
Vass and the two other ringleaders, Gabor Acs and Viktor Berki ran a company called Never Sleep Inc., according to the paper.
At least eight men were forced to live in a cramped one-bedroom New York apartment, ordered to perform sex acts around the clock, with johns or on web cameras, according to the paper. To keep the men from fleeing, their documents were seized by Berki who frequently reminded the men that he was a police officer in Hungary, the Herald reported.
"I was under their control, all day, all night," one victim said, in a statement reportedly read to the court. "They used me like I was a machine. They sold me to strangers. I was not allowed to be tired. I was not allowed to be sad."
A 24-year-old victim said his captors raped him, wielded a sword and threatened his family in Hungary, giving him extra cigarettes if he slept with more men.
"It's really hard for me to socialize, to mingle with people," he testified through an interpreter. "I started drinking heavily to try and forget. I lost all my friends."
The man returned to Hungary but was flown back to Miami by a charity that supports male sex-trafficking victims, where he testified along with two other men. He plans to stay in Miami and start a new life with help from the charity, Ark of Freedom.
In August 2012, the group moved to Miami and the ringleaders insisted the men would not be prostituting, but the operation resumed, according to the Herald.
Vass was himself victimized by Berki and Acs and forced to marry one of them, before he became an active leader, the Herald reported. "He wasn't the one who committed the violence," his defense lawyer Adam Goodman claimed.
Vass could have been sentenced to up to 155 years in prison, according to the paper, but was spared. "I know very well that I am culpable," Vass said in court, also through an interpreter. "After I do my time, I would like to start a new clean life and I'm asking for God's help and I pray every day for forgiveness."
The court hearing drew supporters from several South Florida gay, LGBT groups, some who carried small rainbow flags, according to the paper.
"All of them are survivors of different crimes for being gay or transgender, said Francesco Duberli of Miami's Survivors Pathway organization. "We're honored to be here."
If you or someone you know is the victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for help at 1-888-373-7888. Victims of trafficking may be granted asylum in the United States regardless of immigration status.
Watch Francesco Duberli of Miami's Survivors Pathway Organization talk to reporters following the verdict, and click here to see WPLG's report about the case.