It Was Completely Legal
by Mike Kimel
It Was Completely Legal
Almost two decades ago, an acquaintance asked me to lunch in Los Angeles. Said acquaintance mentioned he had connections with a few nightclubs – he stressed that they were nightclubs – in Macao and Hong Kong, and that “Brazilian girls” – women from about 18 to 26 or so – were becoming a hot commodity in both places. Given that I grew up in Brazil, my acquaintance thought he could have me fly down to Brazil and do some recruiting for them.
We never got down to brass tacks because, though it would have been very lucrative, it wasn’t something I could do. Yes, I’m pretty sure it would have been very easy to locate women either “in the trade” or (what they were really after) semi-professionals willing to move to Macao or Hong Kong for promises that they’d make a lot more money. And my bet is that some of these women I would have located would have made a lot of money. And I’m sure that my end of the operation, recruiting, would have been entirely legal by the laws of the US, Brazil, Hong Kong and Macao. Certainly the way the business was described to me, my acquaintance and his connections had no difficulties with the law either. Things were set up in such a way that what they were doing was completely legal.
But there was a problem for me. I didn’t know all that much about the industry with which my acquaintance had turned out to be associated, but I did know it can be a very dangerous one for the type of person they wanted me to recruit. I could only imagine that the potential dangers would be even greater in a foreign country where the person had no ties and little or no status.
I had no illusions that my refusal to participate would make any difference at all. I don’t recall if I ever saw that acquaintance again, but I would be surprised if he didn’t find someone else who took care of recruiting for him. The industry in Hong Kong and Macao, no doubt, continued apace.
I should also note that whoever took that job would have made a lot of money, more than I did in any remotely comparable amount of time. The only thing my walking away accomplished was that whatever happened going forward, I had nothing to do with it. To this day, I have no regrets that I turned my acquaintance down.
I mention all this because the “it was completely legal” defense has been cropping up a lot lately in things I read. I think its use may be about to increase a lot more in the near future. And if I might contribute one thing to the discussion, please remember this: that an activity is completely legal isn’t an excuse for participating in it.
In all my years of education, I’ve had exactly one law class. The guy who tsught it continually stressed that the law does not describe good, acceptable, or normative behavior. Instead, it is an attempt to describe the lowest common denominator of behavior that society can tolerate.
Being merely legal NEVER makes anything right.
In practice, it dosn’t always hit that mark very well.
I have no doubt that many of those who were recruited ended up in something close to slavery. I wonder what happened to them when their physical attractiveness started to fade?
I have no doubt, it was made legal. But you can’t get rich if you have scruples.
Reminds me of when I was an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky.
At the time there was a thriving business running moonshine out of eastern Kentucky to the cities in Ohio and the rest of the mid-west. Their biggest problem was that the “revenuers” kept close track of the people in the business and were constantly arrest them on the road in their specially reinforced cars with a trunk full of moonshine. The reinforcement was largely to keep the car level so that extra weight would not make it obvious to the police that it was carrying moonshine.
So the moonshiners were constantly recruiting new drivers and I was offered a job. The pay was good and I could have paid for my college education with about one run a month. But I turned it down.
i am not sure it even hits the lowest common denominator. with enough money you can buy a congressman or a good enough lawyer.
slavery is not close to the lcd even in the land of the pfree. what is “legal” is the way you structure the business so all you do is provide a “service”, just like a talent agency or jobs search business.
they can’t prove you know what it’s for. hell, you can even tell yourself you don’t know what it’s for.
that said, and not quite apropos of nothing, i am talking to a friend whose son got himself in trouble with the law in a more or less typical teenager way. now he is dealing with a probation officer who is determined to get him into more trouble by making it impossible for him to comply with the probation terms…as invented by the p.o.
being well on the right side of the law is no guarantee of absence of evil.
If you had taken up the offer, any problems would have fallen on your head rather than on other people who had trusted you.
I think for a “normal” person, the offer made to me would have been easier to turn down than the offer made to you. On the other hand, for a certain class of person, that same fact (i.e., who would pay the bulk of the price for things going wrong) would have made it harder for them to turn down the offer made to me than the one made to you.
I was speaking in the abstract.
You are speaking of reality.
well here is reality
i was in Los Angeles at about the time kimel was. i knew some people who were running a scam. they got called in by the D.A. he told them he thought there was a legal way they could do what they were doing but they weren’t quite there yet. and sent them back out to try harder.
and more recently i was in a town, nameless here, where I knew a city councilman who was at least buying if not selling cocaine. i knew the D.A. knew because he told her to be more careful. At the same time a young man i knew working in the sawmill got sent to jail by the same DA for the same crime.
basically the law is the means whereby the ruling class manage the ruled.
btw i have found new friends.
A couple of months ago I had a long, roundabout discussion with a coworker about social obligations versus the quest for a buck. I concluded with this phrase: “The person who asserts that legal equals right has no moral compass.” She was taken aback but the next day had internalized this when she finally realized an example bluntly contrary to her beliefs as to what’s right — I think it was something about the FDA/USDA allowing our food supply to become tainted, or GMO crops, or something. I was too polite to simply ask her whether slavery was right when it was legal in this country. Your story is more polished and accessible to the masses, so cheers for that.
Thanks. We just have to remember its true no matter who says it. I think the Dems, for instance, should have excoriated Al Gore when he started talking about “no controlling legal authority” or whatever the phrase was that he used back in the year 2000 but there are plenty of more recent examples.
i couldn’t tell if you were thinking you could have asked her about slavery before she found her own answer re FDA, or if you were thinking there was still something lacking after she came to that understanding…
thing is for lots of people lots of the time “right” seems to them exactly the opposite of what it seems to you. FDA and slavery (in its time) being probable examples. I can’t imagine Kimel’s friends being able to tell themselves what they were doing was right.
I am quite sure the P.O. in my story believes he is doing right. I am not so sure about the D.A. in the other examples.
poor al gore
i can’t remember what the no controlling legal authority was about but i seem to remember it was pretty petty. i may just be a natural criminal type, but i have never objected too much to crimes in which no one gets hurt. “normal graft” is what you expect from politicians. it’s the doing things that cause harm to people that sets me to knitting.
not entirely related but i remember the ridicule heaped on gore for saying he “invented the internet.” of course what he said was perfectly true, but not in the way his enemies insisted he meant.
I imagine your recruiter-recruiter quieted his scruples (assuming he had any) by telling himself that the supply chain, including the women, would make a lot of money, and the customers would be happy to pay that money for their services. Happy customers, happy workers, “job creation” in a well-paid, highly specialized trade — what could go wrong?
Now, transplant that argument to creating jobs in general, either at home or (as a form of charity) offshored to poor countries like China, Thailand etc.
When these guys talk about job creation, the never-spoken subtext is that citizens, presumably the occupants and fundamental owners of their country, nevertheless cannot access the resources they need unless some business owner permits them, no matter what their skills or virtues. Without that hall-pass, they can’t sell their only resource, their time, effort and skill, and must regretfully be allowed to descend into destitution under the stern logic of the market.
It’s not slavery, of course. Slaves have to be fed.
The difference between legal conduct and ethical conduct is a common discussion in any good undergrad business curriculum. There are plenty of gray areas of course.
In my several decades, I find it is often the lawyers who are push clients to the ragged edge of unethical conduct but not illegal, or at least facilitate,
Good on ya.
“It Was Completely Legal,”?? Maybe so, maybe no. It all depends on what you knew and when you knew it and the line of contact from conscription of the contraband(that’s the girls in this case) to the exploitation at the terminus of the “employment” scam. Of course, given that Macao, Hong Kong and Brazil are the points of interest and that the exploited young ladies were “only” Brazilians who could at any point be referred to as willing and knowledgeable participants, your arrest would not likely be immanent. But you would have still qualified for the scum bag label all such purveyors deserve. Yes, purveyor is the word that would have fit.
Your safety from prosecution lies primarily in what the corporate/business culture has come to accept as reasonable employment circumstances. Recently Apple, one of the best friends the Chinese government and business community has ever had, (that is after H.Kissinger and P. Peterson) announced that it was going to disclose its suppliers around the globe. That announcement seemed to be met with the assumption that it would now be easier to track down and expose exploitation of the labor force at such locations. Ha, ha, ha!!! Who even cares about the level of exploitation taking place in such enclosed forced labor camps? Am I being too severe using such a term? Read today’s article about Apple and global out sourcing in the NY Times. Here’s a brief portion describing the wonders of the Chinese labor force.
“Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
Exploitation doesn’t begin to do justice to that kind of working condition. How generous. A biscuit and cup of tea just before a 12 hour shift. Those Chinese workers are sure fortunate to have those jobs.
My understanding of the business (it’s been about two decades and I only got the details from the one acquaintance so don’t count on this being “the law”) is this…
1. Group A owns the nightclubs.
2. They hire woemn to work there. Some women are paid just to “be there.” The latter received a percentage on purchases of expensive bottles of alcohol at huge markups by male patrons.
3. If the women decide to take a break and leave the premises for an hour or so at a time in the company of a male patron of the nightclub, that’s fine.
4. In general, women who left the premises for an hour or so at a time would take male patrons to one of a small number of hotels in the area that rented by the hour. If I recall correctly, in Macao but not in Hong Kong, Group A owned those hotels as well. Perhaps it was the other way around, or maybe I got this wrong altogether – it was a long time ago and I wasn’t taking notes. Regardless, the women would receive payment from the male patron for services rendered, and also get a cut from the hotel for whatever was charged for the room.
Thus, if the information I was provided is accurate, the potential to make a lot of money was certainly there. So yes, the term “purveyor” is accurate, but my guess is that the “nothing occurs under the same premises and we aren’t the ones charging for it” thing somehow sidestepped legal responsibility.
And as I noted in the post, I was more concerned about the idea that I would be encouraging others to enter into situations in which they could be facing severe danger than about the notion that it was legal. The fact that it was set up to be completely legal means one thing though – it is virtually impossible to stop this sort of thing. Say, for instance, I had driven down the street to a police station in Los Angeles with the information I had been provided. What would it have accomplished? There are similar establishments operating legally and openly in LA.
Thirty seconds on google yielded this story about one such place in Los Angeles, probably well down the food chain, that forgot to observe a few legal niceties: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/13/opinion/la-ed-raid-20101113
I get the impression that my then acquaintance and his partners were much more professional.
Take note that your understanding of the law may be little more than a good effort at a defense, which is subsequent to arrest and trial. It’s all a matter of how much noise is made coming back down that chain of involvement. Pinochet never stepped a foot in Spain….. If the employees end up suffering serious abuse and exploitation, and a “scandle” ensues you may end up with bigger legal bills than the entire episode earned you.
On the other hand my point was more to focus on the fact that workers in China, in the example described, we’re being treated like endentured servant/slaves. Yet the over all concept being presented in the article was that Apple good not get the job done without that factory’s “terrific” ability to “adjust” it’s labor schedule to meet the demand. The rationale is little more than that offered by the plantations of antebellum SE USofA.
Mike did not take up the offer because he reasoned (correctly) that he would be abetting a situation in which the girls were likely to be exploited (to put it nicely).
A naive, pfreee enterprise, view would have it that all we are looking at here is an employment agency in which girls from a poor country find lucrative employment overseas. Anything bad that happens to them is “not our fault.”
I think (based on nothing but a cynical view of the law) that might be hard to prosecute anyone involved other than the ultimate abuser, unless you could prove that the facilitators of the supply were either financially benefitted by or at least knew of the “abuse.” And as I have seen, DA’s don’t always work that hard.
The deal is the law is only accidentally about right and wrong. It is first a mere bureaucratization of power. It is the will of the ruler, whether that ruler is “the majority” in a democracy, or the most arbitrary tyrant in Kannibal Kingdom. Claims of morality have always accompanied “the rule”, and actual attempts to do “the right thing” are merely pubic relations at the most cynical or just what is required for sufficient efficiency to maintain order.
Fortunately, so far, but maybe not for long, the traditions of democracy have tended to keep the law in this country fairly benign, but by no means reliably so.
As I said, my knowledge of the industry is limited and theoretical now, and was even more so then. That said, I’m not sure how true this is: “likely to be exploited (to put it nicely).”
Exploitation is a complicated term. My guess is that most of the women in Brazil who would accept an offer to go coax male Hong Kong club goers to order an extra bottle of something expensive plus auxilllary activities are already doing something similar in Brazil. They would be going into this thing with their eyes open. My guess is that a small percentage of them would do very well, and most would do no worse than they were doing in Brazil. My big concern was that while this isn’t streetwalking, some women engaged in theis sort of business do get beaten up or killed. I concluded the likelihood of that happening would be greater in a country where the women didn’t know the language or the customs, making it that much harder to read the danger cues. Worse, if they were victimized, their ability to deal with that victimization in a place where the entire culture was alien would be even worse. Thus, some percentage of the women recruited would be made infinitely worse off.
Some people could recruit others for that kind of job and sleep soundly at night. (Or more likely, if they have that sort of a job, they sleep soundly during the day.) I couldn’t.
hard for me to see where you are disagreeing with “likely to be exploited, to put it nicely.”
in the first, but irrelevant, place, there is no guarantee at all the girls would be walking in with their eyes open. the slave trade does not necessarily begin with “how would you like to be a whore in another country,” but is as likely to begin with “how would you like to be a housekeeper, nanny, even barmaid or cocktail waitress.
but that is irrelevant even a girl just looking for a more lucrative street corner is in great danger, perhaps more than she knows, and you — correctly — decided to have no part of that business… perhaps because you felt…again correctly.. her danger would be greater abroad than at home… but i like to think you wouldn’t have recruited girls for that kind of work in their own neighborhood.
“ but i like to think you wouldn’t have recruited girls for that kind of work in their own neighborhood.”
I like to think that too. Nobody has ever asked me to try to do that, though, probably because anyone who wants to recruit women around here to work around here can do it themselves. But if you’re in Los Angeles and looking for Brazilians to work in Hong Kong, your first step is to find someone who is either a Brazilian or close enough and who is either in Brazil or willing to head back.
My disagreement with you was very, very slight…. These guys had what appeared to be an upscale operation. They weren’t “white slavers” looking to keep drug addled women chained in a damp basement. They had the money to be upscale and peddle luxury. My impression is that their ideal candidate was an extremely attractive, well spoken, 24 year old who could flirt a guy into buying several bottles of the most expensive scotch in the house (at an outlandish markup) and then come back twice a week and do the same for the next five weeks. And she would be able to do it every night of the week, getting a different idiot to part with his money every night. A woman with that talent would make a fair amount of money, and frankly, I’m not sure “exploited” describes her situation. I also imagine that were I the sort to have taken on that job of looking for women with those skills, I’d go down to Rio and look for similar establishments, raiding the talent so to speak.
I imagine that someone who did feel abused will not sell many bottles of scotch with triple digit percentage markups. That said, it all comes down to the one little problem: some percentage of those recruited would have something disastrous happen to them. So (and this is not to excuse my acquaintance at the time), but my guess is that the number of women recruited into that particular operation that could be described as exploited is probably a relatively small fraction. But whatever that number, it was big enough for me not to want to have anything to do with the situation.
i am not as charitable as you. i think you hire foreign women exactly because they are easier to “exploit.”
and “upscale” has never been a guarantee of “not sleazy” much less “not evil.”
i suspect your “knows what she’s doing” girl could make just as much in Rio or Las Vegas at much less risk… but by no means no risk. Those are nasty people.
“A woman with that talent would make a fair amount of money, and frankly, I’m not sure “exploited” describes her situation. I also imagine that were I the sort to have taken on that job of looking for women with those skills, I’d go down to Rio and look for similar establishments, raiding the talent so to speak.”
Mike, I’d be real careful about where and to whom you express that opinion. If no sexual transaction takes place you have no problem, but we both know that no one is being asked to recruit foreign talent to a kosher house. Imported women can never be seen as having willingly taken on the job of whoring. Even domestic sex workers are generally regarded as exploited and working against their full will and cooperation. Granted that the further from the final retail transaction the safer, but there is no one in the supply chain that is regarded as being clean in the eyes of the law. It is only a matter of whether or not any cog can be proved to be helping to turn the wheel.
So tell me this. Is Apple free from complicity in the horrible exploitation of Asian workers, especially as described in the example of the Chinese factory in the NY Times article? I see that as a far more important issue. Apple and their Chinese sub-contractors are redefining acceptable labor practices. Apple can claim a long arm’s length from responsibility, but they know the situation and they are accepting of it. The public is beginning to know the issue, but it’s only severe worker exploitation. No big deal to most. That’s the problem.
I turned it down because I planned a career that required security clearances and could not take the chance of an arrest.
As I said, it ain’t an industry I know that much about. But as it was explained to me, a table full of semi-drunk patrons could be cajoled by a pretty girl or two into buying 10K worth of alcohol which cost the house a few hundred bucks. (And this was in the mnid-1980s.) The women weren’t required to engage in sexual activity, though presumably the expectation of that activitiy would help in getting said semi-drunk patrons to buy more alcohol. The reason is that the business model was very specific – the house did not make money off of the sale of sexual favors, except in the case where it owned the temp hotels, and in that case, it only made money on the room rate. The women were free to negotiate their own rates (and keep their own income) from any activities that they engaged in off premises. This kept the entire process “completely legal.”*
That, incidentally, is the whole point of my post. One can create ways that just about any activity that would normally be considered a crime can be made legal. Legal doesn’t make it right.
As to Apple… you put your finger on it… they have set things up so that they are not in any way legally responsible. And my acquaintance and his business associates would, no doubt, have been shocked (play scene from Casablanca) to discover that solicitiation of prostitution happened under their roof.