Via Get With It Podcast: We’re joined by an attorney who has aggressively taken on big pharma, tobacco, weapons manufacturers and the auto industry, now uses his own cases as springboards to his novels. His latest release is, “Inhuman Trafficking.” It’s based on a case he’s working on involving human trafficking. We’re joined by Mike Papantonio. He’s a senior partner of Levin Papantonio Rafferty, one of the country’s largest plaintiffs law firms.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Michael Cohen: All right, let’s get with it. We’re joined by an attorney who has aggressively taken on big pharma, tobacco, weapons manufacturers and the auto industry, now uses his own cases as springboards to his novels. His latest release is, “Inhuman Trafficking.” It’s based on a case he’s working on involving human trafficking. We’re joined by Mike Papantonio. He’s a senior partner of Levin Papantonio, one of the country’s largest plaintiffs law firms. Mike, great to have you here.
Mike Papantonio: Good to be here, Michael.
Michael Cohen: Well, let me first ask about this case you’re dealing with in real life. What, what, what exactly are you working with when it comes to this case of human trafficking?
Mike Papantonio: Well, it’s cases that we filed. The book is based on several parts of the case. There’s three major parts to it. One is the, the trucking industry is, is trafficking women all the way from LA to the East Coast and then up the Eastern seaboard. What they do, Michael, is they load up an 18 wheeler with five or six sometimes as many as 10 girls, make their way across places like interstate 10, which is East to West, stopping at, at, at stop, at truck stops the whole way. But before they stop, they call ahead, let everybody know they’re coming and then people come in from all over the, all over that route to have sex with these mostly underage girls. The truck stop, they know what’s going on. It’s these big, it’s these big indust, you know, the huge corporate truck stops that have, you know, thousands of truck stops all over the country.
And so they know exactly what’s happening. You know, it’s good money for the truck stop. But there’s three, two or three iterations of what is the really big, big issue with trafficking right now. People think it’s just a one-off kind of deal that some dirt bag just grabs a girl and trafficks her, it’s not. It’s, it’s become a corporate industry. It’s $42 billion a year industry. And the hotels know about it. They enable it. The finance companies, Wall Street, they know what it’s about. They, they actually have equity interest, buy equity interest in these companies. So, you know, it’s bigger than everybody understands. Unfortunately we have a, just an abysmal corporate media that is unable to tell this story or unwilling to tell this story because their advertisers simply won’t let them.
Michael Cohen: What about law enforcement? How has, how do you feel law enforcement’s doing with these kinds of cases?
Mike Papantonio: Well, law enforcement is kind of in the dark about what happens. They, under, most of the time, these, these girls who are trafficked sometimes get, get arrested for one thing or another, and rather than intervening and helping them make their break, they’re thrown back into the mix. For example, I just hired an attorney for this law firm, who was trafficked at the age of 13. She was trafficked until she was, I think, 16, somewhere in those, in those years. Made her escape, went to UCLA, got her JD and then got her, her MBA and then her JD. So she works with me now. And when you, when you listen to the stories, you get the fact that law enforcement is just totally in the dark. They don’t have recognition when it’s happening. They don’t know what to do when it’s happening. They sometimes even make the victim into a bigger victim without ever getting them out of the trafficking mess that they’re in. So, yeah, I don’t have a lot of, I don’t, I don’t think they do it on purpose, Michael. I just think it’s a lack of understanding. They just haven’t been educated about what’s happening.
Michael Cohen: Talking to attorney Mike Papantonio, the book is, “Inhuman Trafficking.” I’m curious about how the word gets out. You say these girls are being trafficked on these semis. How are people informed that they’re there and available to be used?
Mike Papantonio: Oh, oh, they’ll have, they have, they have, you know, codes all along the way, you know, see ya at truck stop 32 six o’clock, whatever, and people, it’s just, it’s a, it’s a dialogue. I mean, it’s an absolute dialogue that people know about and they’re and they’re used to it. And now imagine that you’re running the truck stop and a bunch of guys seem to be surrounding a truck and going in and out of the truck and, you know, you know something’s going on. But the truck stop is, is making money, you see, it’s a big draw for the truck stop. They get fuel there. They buy food there. They spend the night there and then they have sex there and the truck moves on to the next truck stop. But look, there’s, there’s even worse than that. You know, you’ve got, when I say Wall Street’s involved, you’ve got company, you’ve got a great example is company up in Canada that is responsible for most of the child porn that hits the international market, through the internet.
Well, they know who the traffickers are. So they call up and they say, look, we’d really like a scene with a couple of underage girls being raped in a hotel room. Can you do that for us? Well, they do it and then they send it to that, that distribution house and it ends up all over the world. And so we find out now that, that, that distribution house, that Wall Street actually has money invested in that distribution house. So I’m anxious to get in front of that one and take those depositions. And these smug arrogant, you know, awful people on Wall Street who think they’re getting away with it are gonna understand that it’s going to cost them billions of dollars before it’s all over.
Michael Cohen: And are you saying this is mostly happening through the trucking industry then?
Mike Papantonio: Well, that’s one of them. I mean, no, it’s just, it’s just one of the iterations. The other iteration is the, is the child porn industry that has a real deep connection to, you know, to the traffickers. The third major part is what we call recruiter trafficking and that’s where women come in through the Ukraine. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a restaurant, it’s real common. You’ll have a restaurant where every, everybody is Ukraine or they’re, you know, some part of that, some part of that world. Well, what, the reason for that is is they’re H2B workers, okay. And what that means is they send a recruiter over there and they say, hey, how would you like to work for the service industry?
Well, come on back to the United States. They put them in a hotel room as a greet, not in a hotel room, but is in a restaurant as a greeter. And then within two weeks, they move them on to the next place, a strip club where they’re a greeter. And then after that, they move them onto the pole where they’re making more money. And then after the poll, they end up actually into the trafficking process. Some guy named Tom or Fred, hey, he wants to meet you and the next thing you know, they disappear. So that’s a very common process. It goes on all the time. It usually centers around some of the strip clubs throughout the United States. But you see it. We had it right here in North Florida, you know, very common issue.
Michael Cohen: And in general, that are, most of the women affected by these human trafficking situations, are they American or non-American women?
Mike Papantonio: It’s about an even split, Michael. I mean, you know, you have, you have, girl next door kind of trafficking. Matter of fact, the girl that I told you about the lawyer that we just hired, maybe a year ago, she was upper middle-class America. I mean, she’s your neighbor. Then you have them that come in from the Ukraine, big numbers, not just the Ukraine, but South America, Mexico, Asia. So it’s a kind of an even split, you know, domestic recruiting is huge. I mean, you know, people next door, runaways, people that come from, you know, broken homes, people that have drunk, drug problems. You know, the, the survival of those people in a trafficked situation is about five to seven years where they either die from, you know, some kind of sex, sexually related disease or drug overdose, or suicide, sometimes homicide.
Michael Cohen: And what’s the challenge then of pursuing these kinds of cases on your end as an attorney?
Mike Papantonio: Well, the challenge is to get America to pay attention to what’s going on and understand that just because, you know, we’re, we’re a weird culture, Michael. We think somebody is dressed up in an Armani suit, they got a Rolex watch on, they drive a Bentley, that they’re not a criminal. Well, those criminals, those criminals that look like that are all over Wall Street. I mean, you can go every block and find a criminal that looks like that on Wall Street, but we don’t treat them like criminals, you see, they have a lot of money and it, they don’t have a hoodie on, they’re not selling marijuana on a street corner. They don’t look like what we would classify as a criminal. So as a culture, we let them go. Even though we can track the money directly from Wall Street to this, to this pornography industry, we can track it directly to the trucking industry. We let them go because they just, they just don’t look like criminals, you know.
Michael Cohen: And you’re saying the, the profits made just from the trafficking alone is enough for them to turn their heads and, and ignore this problem?
Mike Papantonio: Oh, God, Michael, it’s huge. It’s $42 billion industry. I mean, that was just last year. It’s growing, it’s, five years ago, it was about 30 billion. Now it’s $42 billion industry. Because what you have is you have a reusable commodity is the way they described their business. You know, they’re not selling cocaine that you can only sell one time. They’re selling a 14 year old girl that they can sell for as long as they stay alive, which is typically, they, they live four or five years. They make it in the trafficked industry. And so that’s a, that’s a reusable commodity, and that’s why it’s so profitable for them.
Michael Cohen: Attorney Mike Papantonio, the author of the new book, “Inhuman Trafficking.” Now give me a sense of what’s your, how your novel unfolds.
Mike Papantonio: Well, it’s, it’s the story, actually, it’s a collection of the stories I just gave you. It unfolds with one of our lawyers doing a, doing an investigation of the trucking industry that uncovers exactly what I just described to you. There, there’s an interesting character in here though that’s kind of a twist from the other books. It’s a, it’s a character called a PJ. They’re called a pararescue man. And that character is recruited by the, the, the law firm as a lawyer. He’s come through his service, he’s special ops and he’s come onto the, to the law firm. But he doesn’t play by the lawyer rules and I think that makes, makes the book kind of take a couple of interesting turns. You know, he doesn’t really play by the law rules. He play, he plays by the rules that he learned as a pararescue man, as a special ops. And so it gets, you know, some of that stuffs, some of that stuff’s, these, these folks are, by the way, trained right down the road from where I live at Tyndall air force base. They are a bunch of bad cats. And so this particular one is actually based on somebody I know that came through the process and ended up going with a, to, to a law firm.
Michael Cohen: Is there a happy ending then, or?
Mike Papantonio: Oh, you’ll like the ending, you’ll like the ending.
Michael Cohen: In real life is there a happy ending?
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, in real life, there is no happy ending. In real life the best I can hope for is that while I’m still kicking, maybe I can make it a little bit better for the folks that are being trafficked. But, you know, it’s the, it’s the most base quality of human nature that they’re always going to follow the money and what we have to do is take as much money away from them as we can. We have to make it to where Wall Street’s embarrassed when I have them in trial up on a witness stand and I’m showing that their company participated in this process and maybe the shareholders really get angry and the shareholders say, well, we’re just, we don’t want to be part of that. So that’s really where I’m headed with this. You know, I don’t know if you know it or not, but we launched the tobacco case right here at this law firm. We launched the opioid case that’s going on right now, right here at this law firm. So we’re used to the big challenges. This one’s no different.
Michael Cohen: And in terms of the companies involved, I mean, can you name, can you name a few of them?
Mike Papantonio: I, I really, I can’t right now, because there’s some, there’s, we’re under some orders not to.
Michael Cohen: Is this any different than going after tobacco or big pharma?
Mike Papantonio: It’s exactly the same process. You’re dealing with a bunch of sociopath’s. You know, you understand that when you walk in the courtroom, you have to adjust to the fact that you’re not dealing with normal people. You’re dealing with people that have absolutely sociopathic characteristics. If you had what they call a psychological DSM4, where you’re analyzing on a checklist, is this person a sociopath, you’d check right down the line almost every box that, yeah, that CEO that’s sitting across from me that’s all dressed up in his three-piece suit, that person’s a sociopath. And so it’s the same thing. It’s the same thing we saw with tobacco. It’s the same thing we saw with opioids. It’s the same thing we’ve seen here.
Michael Cohen: I do want to ask about your time. You’re an attorney, I mean, you’re actually pursuing these cases. How do you have time to write novels along the way?
Mike Papantonio: Well, it’s pretty, it, it, here’s how it works. As I walk out of the courtroom, I’ve, I have a new chapter. As I take a deposition, I have a new chapter. As I get a new client, I have a new chapter. So the book kind of writes itself, you know, because I’m actually doing it every day. And the biggest thing is discipline. You have to discipline yourself to say, I’m going to, you can’t say, I’m going to write that two weeks from now. You have to say, I’ve got to start it right now and at least get the bones of that chapter put together right now, based on what I just experienced.
Michael Cohen: And the motive. What, what makes you, I mean, after a hard day of working, what makes you want to sit down and continue working on, on novels?
Mike Papantonio: Well, I think it’s important that people understand, people don’t want to be, they don’t want to have social issues shoved down their throat. Okay. We learned that in tobacco. People want choices. And the point being, if you educate them and you entertain them while you’re educating them, then that, then that goes a long way. In other words, if you read a book and you close the, you know, turn the last page and you say, well, that was entertaining. But I also learned something. Then I feel like that’s really important here because corporate media will not do that. Television won’t do that. Newspapers won’t do that. Regulators don’t even pay attention to it. The US government is totally asleep on this issue. So you have to get the message out some way and I find this is, this is the best avenue. It’s a, it’s the fourth in a series of books that all involve big cases like this.
Michael Cohen: I mean, it is interesting, because we’ve all heard of the term human trafficking, but it just seems to be something we, we know is happening out there. We don’t know anyone involved personally, but we know it’s occurring. What do you, where do you think we are and what’s the, looking ahead, where do you see this issue, how do you see this issue?
Mike Papantonio: We’re, we’re 10 years, we’re 10 years behind where we should be. We’ve got a Congress that, you know, most days they’re just unable to take action. I mean, you know, I don’t, I don’t have a political agenda because I don’t have any faith in either party. There’s enough years behind us now to know that we have a Congress who’s been no help whatsoever. We have law enforcement that wants to help, but they haven’t been, they haven’t been educated in how to help. And so, as long as we have politicians, we’re going to have these kinds of problems because politicians are so terrified to take action. And we’ve seen that with Congress now for about the last 25 years on this issue. Finally state by state, we’re seeing some, we’re seeing some legislative changes that are doing away with statute of limitations, because most of these, most of these kids are trafficked when they’re very young, you know, 13, 14, 15. If they pull out of it and they live, you know, it may be till they’re 25 that, you know, before they can even confront it. And so, that’s where we start by changing the statute of limitations in these states that open up the ability for somebody to bring a lawsuit on behalf of these people,
Michael Cohen: Attorney Mike Papantonio, the new book is, “Inhuman Trafficking.” Mike, how can people find you?
Mike Papantonio: Well, they can find it anywhere. Amazon, any bookstore, wherever you buy books, it’s Skyhorse and Skyhorse distributes to virtually every book company in the, in the country.
Michael Cohen: Mike, thank you very much.
Mike Papantonio: Thank you, Michael.