After two years in court, following nearly 3,000 court filings, handwringing over how and where to proceed with the case, as well as mountains of paperwork, convictions in U.S.A. vs. Adan et al — the massive case of alleged multi-state sex trafficking involving Somali immigrants and teenage girls — still elude prosecutors.
In fact, they just suffered a big setback at the hand of U.S. District Court Judge William J. Haynes Jr., marking a fork in the road for the government.
Filed under seal in October 2010, the federal indictment named 29 defendants believed to be members of Somali-associated gangs and alleged to have transported underage girls for commercial sex between Minneapolis, Nashville and other cities. Aside from sex-trafficking conspiracy allegations, the indictment also charged the defendants with perjury, obstruction of justice, auto theft and credit card fraud.
When the initial indictment hammer dropped two years ago, murmurs surfaced questioning why federal prosecutors in Minneapolis, where much of the alleged illegal activity took place, didn’t prosecute the case. Since that indictment was handed down, the case has seen many twists and turns surface, including in 2012 four plea agreements, a three-week-long trial, six acquittals, and three convictions which were then overturned by Haynes.
As yet, the only slots in the “win column” for the government appear to be the agreements arranging for guilty pleas on one count each for four defendants — including false statements in application to register permanent residence or adjust status, perjury before a grand jury, and two counts of credit card fraud.
Three superseding indictments followed the initial one, and some defendants have been severed from some charges effectively splitting the case up into smaller ones.
Nine defendants went to trial in April of this year, which after several weeks resulted in a jury convicting Idris Fahra, Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Yusuf on sex-trafficking charges. The jury acquitted the other six defendants. Kayachith still faces a charge in the third superseding indictment.
Two weeks ago, however, following a flurry of motions to acquit filed in the wake of that decision, Haynes overturned those convictions, siding with defense attorneys’ argument that the government failed to prove the defendants acted as part of a single conspiracy.
Asked about the progress of the case so far, U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin said, “Investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases is extremely difficult work. To effectively put a case together we must rely on victims who are often unwilling to come forward and witnesses who are often unwilling to participate in the process. Despite these difficulties, this office — along with our local, state and federal partners — remains totally committed to ridding society of the scourge of human trafficking through vigorous enforcement of the law.”
It’s a huge case, no doubt. And it’s likely far from over. With Haynes overturning the three convictions, prosecutors must decide if they want to appeal that decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with possible outcomes including Haynes’ acquittals are upheld; the acquittals are overturned and a new trial is held; or the acquittals are overturned and the jury’s convictions are simply reinstated.
But even without the decision of whether or not to appeal Haynes’ ruling hanging over the government, it still has at least four related trials to oversee.