Via America’s Lawyer: Ghislaine Maxwell and the late Jeffrey Epstein may have already been put behind bars, but that hasn’t stopped more women from making additional allegations of sex abuse against the two traffickers. It turns out Epstein used blackmail and coercion to keep his victims from fleeing his private island. Attorney and founder of Runaway Girl Carissa Phelps joins Mike Papantonio to discuss the haunting psychological impact of human trafficking and explains steps people can take to keep themselves safe from predators.

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*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             A new filing in the cases against Jeff Epstein have revealed that he’d use blackmail and he used coercion techniques to prevent women from fleeing his property. Joining me to talk about this is Carissa Phelps. She’s one of our lawyers and just is an expert in this area. Carissa, look, start by telling us the story, the new development that’s coming around the Epstein case.

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, fortunately, people are able to share their story as it’s taken so long for them to be able to do so around this case. And what he used was, you know, blackmail in the same way that he used blackmail in other cases, that’s what’s being alleged, is that you had people that were holding dossiers and information on his victims and holding acts. Maybe they were innocent acts. Maybe they were supposedly criminal acts that he convinced them they would get in trouble for. They would lose an opportunity over. And he was holding that over their head, allegedly.

Mike Papantonio:             The, the lawyer involved, Brad Edwards, longtime friend, wonderful lawyer who actually started all of this. He stayed with it. You know, he wasn’t, it wasn’t about am I going to make a big fee, it is, can I make some justice take place? Judges blew it. Regulators blew it. Department of justice blew it. State prosecutors blew it, did a terrible, terrible job.

Carissa Phelps:                  Right.

Mike Papantonio:             And to me, we ought to take a close look about prosecuting some of them for their failures, because it was, it’s too close, the conduct is simply too close to say, well, it was just bad judgment. I think there was some intent involved there. And I think we had to take a serious look at it. But so, so this case centers around the one that Brad’s going forward with centers around Priscilla Doe, 22 year old ballet dancer, lay that out for me just a little bit.

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, if someone has hopes and dreams and they fought to get to where they’re at and they’re offered an opportunity, maybe for something that seems like an easy job or a shortcut to help them through the hard times where they’re trying to support something like in the arts that’s so hard to get support for in the United States happens. There, there could be some pressure, some recruiting that goes on, which it sounds like happened with her. In her complaint, she talks about a recruiter who kind of sold her this dream and this idea that she would only have to do massages or she would only have to do certain acts. And that’s usually how the lie starts is there’s only going to be so much you have to do, you have control and you have power and it’s just simply a lie.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah.

Carissa Phelps:                  And then once they fall prey to it, once they’re in that trap, it’s a tangled web.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. Well, they’ve made documentaries about your life. You were traffic, trafficked at 14 years old. Got out of that. The documentary is compelling. I mean, it was, what a story. Went to UCLA, got your MBA and your JD and now you’re working with this law firm and I’m so proud that you’re doing it because we are full tilt going after the traffickers. So tell me, tell me this, this idea about using that kind of threat. Was that something that you saw typically in the business?

Carissa Phelps:                  And it’s very easy to put fear into somebody when you’re using something like sexual assault and rape, violent acts, when you’re demeaning them. When you’re telling them that they are less than, they’re not worthy, then they can, they can feel trapped just in that idea. And they feel like people aren’t looking at them and won’t help them because that often, like you pointed out, is the case. They’re not getting help from law enforcement. They’re not getting help from, from the judges or from the regulators or from the people that should be watching out for them. They’re not sympathetic victims that people are trying to rescue or help and part of the game is making them look as if and appear as if everything is okay. So, so putting hair, makeup, taking them to fancy events on airplanes, on boats, on islands, all is part of the game. All is part of covering up what’s actually going on, which is torment and abuse.

Mike Papantonio:             So this, this story centers around something called HBRK. Now as a corporation, attorney Wiener is the guy in charge of it and he’s working with Epstein. Who’s working with Klein, who’s working with Khan, who’s working with Wiener. So this whole group, this whole cabal is involved in something, whether they’re saying they intentionally knew or not, this resulted in a massive amount of trafficking of young girls. Not uncommon.

Carissa Phelps:                  Correct. I mean, what a trafficker requires are these third parties, these businesses that seemingly are legitimate to help effectuate what they want to get done, which is to have that power and control over an individual. So having those businesses on their side, having those professionals, those individuals who worked for him, taking care of this kind of business, helped him to grow in terms of the trafficking organization he was running and the larger blackmail scheme that he’s being accused of as well.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, now there’s even the possibility, I think you and I talked earlier, sometimes the stories can be made up. Okay. You’ve got, you’ve got Maxwell, you’ve got Epstein who’s passed money around from everybody to Bill Clinton, to Trump, to everybody with influence. And so he is in this influential position. Maxwell is in this influential position. They literally could make up a story and say, I’m going to go to the department of justice, or I’m going to go to the state attorney’s office and they’re going to believe me. They’re not going to believe you because you’re from the Ukraine. And you came over here to get a job. And then we put you as a waitress and then we moved you to a strip club. And then we moved you into, into prostitution. Who’s going to believe that, you see?

Carissa Phelps:                  Right.

Mike Papantonio:             And so, so the story is plausible, isn’t it?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, yeah. And the worst trap of all Pap is, is this was your choice. That’s what they’re making them believe, right? This was your choice. Didn’t you want this? Didn’t you like having fancy things or having these, these opportunities to go to chase their dreams? They’re going to make them feel like it was their choice and it was their fault and they will feel ashamed of coming forward. And when they do come forward, if they’re not met with any kind of trained trauma informed victim centered approach, then they’re going to be ignored by the system.

Mike Papantonio:             I’ve heard you speak about this. It’s a very moving speech in that you described the fact that the police don’t get it. Okay. That the police are more apt to arrest that child who’s being trafficked than they are the trafficker because of that influence, because of who’s in a superior position. But I got to wonder as I’m looking at this whole Epstein thing. I started out by saying there really needs to be a serious look at all of the people that were involved and there needs to be a serious look. Why aren’t we prosecuting them? What, what have we, have we gotten to the point to where they look different. They’re dressed up in Armani suits. They’re, they’re in political office. Everybody knows their name. So we choose not to prosecute them. Did you see some edge of that when you were involved?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, and, and we’re starting to shift, we’re starting to change that approach. And we see it in our own backyard that we’re trying to change that approach. We’re trying to go after even those people who have political influence, who have power, who decide to go on a website and traffic a 17 year old girl, we’re going to go after them. We’re going to find them out. That information is going to be there. And we do have trained law enforcement now. It’s a matter now of getting the trained law enforcement to be able to have the resources they need to train others, to get a, basically some organization in place because traffickers are, have always been well organized, whether it’s the pimps and the gangs running girls throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, and all that area. Whether it’s the gangs that come from over over the border that bring girls over to traffic them in residential brothels, there’s always been organization and it’s outpaced what we’ve been able to keep up with in terms of the, on the ground law enforcement.

Mike Papantonio:             All right. Disclosure, full disclosure, we initiated one of the biggest trafficking cases in the country, in Ohio with what they call an MDL. And that, that was your idea. It was the idea of saying, in order to get a hold of this, we have to have a national platform. Is it working?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, I think we’ve got people paying attention. I think we have people paying attention and the, the MDL may not be as structured as we want it to yet. But I think that people are starting to pay attention. They’re understanding the idea that these, these corporations acted consistently together to create opportunities for traffickers to hide while they continued to profit and turn a blind eye. I think we’re telling that story and we’re telling it for victims on behalf of victims. The, the issue is that we still have more companies coming forward trying to exploit those opportunities.

Mike Papantonio:             We’re talking about corporations?

Carissa Phelps:                  Yes, yeah.

Mike Papantonio:             So why, why is it that we’ve gotten to the point, just like, you know, just like I asked the question, why do we look at these politicos or these people of influence that are, you know, they’ve got an MBA degree from Yale or wherever and we look at them differently? We say, oh, no, they can’t have done this. We do the same thing with corporations. You’ve had to break through of making the public understand, yes, the big hotel chains they’re involved, wall street money, it’s involved. Sometimes police departments are involved. Sometimes the lack of understanding by the judicial system is involved. So, so as we look at this, how, what, what’s your solution? What, besides educating, don’t you think you just have to spank some of these people? I mean, I mean, I look at it, I look at it totally different.

Carissa Phelps:                  If we took away the incentives.

Mike Papantonio:             Take away the incentives, how do you do that?

Carissa Phelps:                  So the money. So, so people looked the other way, because they think maybe in the back of their mind that they’re going to make money or their organization is going to make money and if they look the other way long enough, or, or their, their, claim ignorance, willful ignorance and blindness, then there’ll be able to just continue to cash in on what is exploitation and harm of individuals.

Mike Papantonio:             Real quick question. As I was looking at some of these stories, one thing was just nauseating to me. As Epstein had, had the Doe girl on the floor, rubbing his feet as he’s watching movies in a movie theater. You’re, you started this by saying, you got to take something away from these girls. What are you taking away from their, their, their character, their integ? What, what’s the takeaway on that?

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, you make them feel like they can only exist with you. So they’re only important because of you. They’re only important because you say they’re important. They’re only given power when you say they can have that power, that control or that voice. And that is, that’s a hallmark of exploitation and abuse. And this, this cycle goes on because they believe it themselves. They internalize that, that I, I belong to this person. I’m not worthy without them. And those types of acts like having them serve food when they’re an award-winning ballerina, you know, having them be demeaned into a position of being on the floor and rubbing my feet is my sick, you know, way of controlling that, that human being.

Mike Papantonio:             In other words, the control is you’re not good enough. You don’t fit in. There’s nothing that, that you can do about your situation. It is to demean them to the point to where it’s not, sometimes it’s not violence, it’s not slapping them around because the traffickers worried about, maybe I’m going to be discovered if I do that. But it’s really, really more of a matter of just taking away everything that ought to motivate them as a person. Right?

Carissa Phelps:                  Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             And we see this in the European situation, a lot. The recruits say in the Ukraine, how would you like to come to the United States, have a job working in a restaurant as a, as a greeter? And then, oh, you can make more money if you want to work in our club over here, it’s a strip club. And oh, by the way, you can make more money on the pole. And, you know, you can make more money by talking to Tom over here who wants to meet you. And before you know it, they’re in the system squarely.

Carissa Phelps:                  Well, and I’ve seen that turn into a form of labor trafficking too. So if they’re giving all of their, they’re basically being recruited to be held into these strip clubs or into these organizations that are labor trafficking them, right. That’s just that sheer definition of labor trafficking, whether or not someone believes it’s their choice, or they’re being powered. If they’re giving 90% and they’re being held and told that they’re, you know, being threatened, that they’re being threatened either with, with violence or demonic possession, everything’s been put out there in terms of threats and what a trafficker can use. There’s no holds bar when it comes to someone who has an evil plan.

Mike Papantonio:             Glimmer of hope, you’re the glimmer of hope. Okay. You’re the glimmer of hope because keep it up. We’re, we’re all in. We’re, we’re all in this fight and I, I’m optimistic some good’s going to come out of it. Thank you for joining me, Carissa.

Carissa Phelps:                  Thank you, Pap.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.