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The state’s new asset forfeiture law is being applied in an Oakland case, authorities say

By Kristin BenderOakland Tribune

Posted: 01/25/2010 12:01:00 AM PST
Updated: 01/25/2010 09:19:00 AM PST

OAKLAND — On a warm May evening in 2008, Richard Ashley, an Oakland minister at the time, met a man named Kalvin Craven in a motel parking lot.

Craven was 20, a cocky street pimp who picked up girls on the streets of Oakland and put them to work having sex with men, police said. Ashley was a 54-year-old father and husband who had worked as a pimp for 20 years in his younger years, spent four years homeless and then turned to religion for redemption and direction.

The men were meeting in East Oakland because of a girl, a 17-year-old whom Ashley recently had met after she smiled and waved at him, trying to get his attention, when he drove by her at an Oakland bus stop. At first glance, he thought she was a young woman from his church.

“Then she asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ Then I knew,” he said. “I called her over and asked her if she believed in God.”

The two prayed together at the bus stop, and the minister passed his cell phone number to her. If she wanted to change her life, get out of prostitution, he was there to help.

Two days later she called. She asked if he would he come get her and take her home?

What happened next — the shooting of Ashley by Craven — set off a chain of events that earlier this month became a big victory for Alameda County prosecutors, who are cracking down on people who are trafficking and sexually exploiting minors.

Early this month, Craven agreed to plead

guilty to human trafficking of a minor and to shooting into an occupied vehicle. He will serve 15 years in state prison, with formal sentencing scheduled for April.

The case was important for Alameda County prosecutors because Craven became the first person in Alameda County to face asset forfeiture and a fine of up to $20,000 under a new human trafficking law, AB17, said Deputy District Attorney Sharmin Eshraghi Bock, head of the HEAT unit of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. (The acronym means Human Exploitation and Trafficking.) Fifty percent of the fines will go to support services for sexually exploited minors.

Before AB17, which was written by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, and signed into law last fall by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the fine was $5,000.

“Pimps are out there selling kids and getting richer by the day — as well as more violent, brazen and organized,” Eshraghi Bock said. “Human trafficking is big business, and it requires a big-business response. Until our Legislature raises prison terms for traffickers, AB17 targets what the bad boys treasure the most — their cash stash.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley agreed.

“The fines that will be given when (people) are sentenced are very significant,” O’Malley said.

‘It’s not good’

On the evening of May 15, 2008, Craven clearly knew he would lose part of his cash flow if he lost the 17-year-old girl. Still, Craven agreed to meet the girl and Ashley at a motel at First Avenue and 12th Street, where the teen and the pimp had been staying.

Before the meeting, Ashley called Craven — he didn’t want any trouble, he told the younger man.

“If I had heard anything in his voice that made me think we were in danger, I would have had the police go with us. But I didn’t,” said Ashley, who was shot four times in Jack London Square in 1987 before he turned his life around. “I used to be in that (pimp) lifestyle. It’s not good.”

In his car in the parking lot, Ashley stuck his hand out the window and shook Craven’s hand. The girl had gone inside the motel to retrieve her things, and Craven walked around to the passenger side of Ashley’s car. The door was open, and Craven bent down. The two locked eyes.

Craven pulled a gun from his waistband and pointed it at Ashley’s head, demanding his money and valuables.

“I looked at him right in the eye, and I said, ‘You don’t want to do that,’ ” Ashley recalled.

It was too late. Craven lowered the gun and shot Ashley in the arm, police said. Then Craven took off running.

“I thought I was going to get to tell him about some of the things (about the life of a pimp), but we didn’t get that far,” Ashley said. “All he was seeing was that I was taking away his meal ticket.”

Ashley drove himself to a hospital, and a witness later helped police track Craven to an Eighth Avenue backyard where he was hiding. He was arrested and jailed.

“Ashley tried to help because I think he wants to make a difference “…,” Eshraghi Bock said, adding that the HEAT unit’s newly developed HEAT Watch program aims to encourage others to do the same — help girls get off the streets.

Since the shooting, Ashley still ministers to people, but he has not renewed his ministry license and said he is looking for work. He has regained nearly all the function in his right arm but still suffers some nerve pain.

The girl, whose name was never released, was uncooperative with police and prosecutors. Ashley believes she is off the streets and living with family.

“Ultimately, the sexually exploited minor in this case was uncooperative with our efforts to prosecute her pimp, which makes clear the strong hold that traffickers have on their victims, even from jail,” Eshraghi Bock said.

The reason: money.

‘Big business’

Many girls have to meet quotas of roughly $500 a day, working seven days a week. Girls are often told to charge around $40, and many girls are required to turn 10 to 15 tricks a night, authorities said.

Profits generated by human traffickers can add up to $67,200 per victim per year, according to data from the Polaris Project, a Washington-based group working to combat human trafficking in the United States and worldwide.

An estimated 200,000 American children are at high risk for trafficking into the sex industry each year, according to the Polaris Project.

“It’s big business,” Eshraghi Bock said.

The first application of AB17 comes as O’Malley is unveiling HEAT Watch, which lays out five strategies for combating human exploitation and trafficking at local, regional and national levels. The idea is to get the word out to neighborhood groups, churches, philanthropic organizations, schools, residents and businesses that human trafficking “knows no borders and exists right before their very eyes,” O’Malley said.

“The reason why we apprehended Craven is because a citizen who was not a party to the case was observant, opened his eyes and ears, took action and helped,” Eshraghi Bock said. “And that is what we are asking other citizens to do with the HEAT Watch program.”

The District Attorney’s Office has an anonymous tip line, 510-208-4959, and an e-mail address, heatwatch-da@acgov.org, for reporting suspected sexual exploitation.

HEAT Watch is working with police departments and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on training, case-by-case assistance, and on complex cases that cross city, county and state lines.

Additionally, HEAT Watch is stepping up prosecution of offenders. Eshraghi Bock was the first prosecutor in Alameda County to impose the human trafficking fine under AB17. What’s more, since the passage of the state’s human trafficking statute four years ago, prosecutors have convicted 122 adult traffickers out of the 164 cases that were charged.

The blueprint also looks to educate policy makers, community leaders and legislators about child commercial exploitation. Ashley believes in this strategy.

“It’s absolutely possible (for community members to get involved). One of the things I told (the 17-year-old) and I tell other girls is if you get $500 every time you turn a date, it would not be enough money,” Ashley said. “The reason is because you are priceless and you are precious and you don’t get but one of you. And at any point, on one little crazy date, it could be over with.”

The District Attorney’s Office has created support services to be the first point of contact for females on the street through the legal process and beyond. Providing services to the victim is important, O’Malley said, because sexually exploited minors must be supported at every step of the investigation and prosecution.

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