Fault Lines
18 June 2017
vampire pimp

Justice Thomas Sides with “Drac,” the Jamaican Vampire Pimp

March 14, 2017 (Fault Lines) — It’s hard out there for a pimp, as Damion St. Patrick Baston discovered. Baston came to the US in 1989 from Jamaica. Things didn’t go well, and he was removed in 1998. But he purchased a fake ID and re-entered the U.S. The ruse was so good, he eventually got a U.S. passport. We have the security theater of crotch-grabbing at the airport, but we apparently have no system in place to keep vampires from getting U.S. passports.

One of Baston’s street names was Drac, as in Dracula. When you wear gold-plated fangs and yellow contact lenses, no other name can do. The name ‘Edward’ doesn’t carry the same weight and would make people think of those lame vampires. Dracula is the gold standard for nosferatu.

Drac a/k/a Baston wasn’t in a metal band or an emo teenager; he was an international pimp. He got into the business after reading the book Pimpology: 48 Laws of Game. You can be assured that it is a quality source because it was written by Pimpin’ Ken. When you’re a Jamaican vampire with a U.S. passport and a putative member of the Bloods who is looking to break into international human trafficking, Pimpin’ Ken is the go to source.

Baston was seemingly a good disciple of Pimpin’ Ken. He had his victims call him Daddy; he took all the money they earned (obviously); and he focused on weak women with past sexual abuse. These were all tips from Pimpology. But unlike Pimpin’ Ken, Baston assaulted his victims and threatened to kill them.

On one of his trips to Australia, he met K.L. at a nightclub. In short order, he was pimping her out in Australia, the U.S., and the United Arab Emirates. Another woman, T.M., met Baston through an associate she’d sent pictures to. She agreed to work as an escort for him and began working in Miami strip clubs. Baston met J.R. after seeing her pictures on Instagram. Rather than help her get modeling jobs, as he promised, he forced her to work at strip clubs and prostitute herself.

Life under Baston was difficult for these women. He bit K.L. on the cheek until it bled. Another time he heated up a knife over a flame and threatened to slit her throat. Baston drove T.M. to a secluded park, and threatened to kill and bury her where no one would find her. He threatened to kill J.R. too, and forced her to get an abortion. And that was just the big stuff. On top of all that, these women were routinely assaulted.

After several of these women escaped, Baston was arrested and charged federally with multiple counts of sex trafficking and money laundering. Baston argued that all of the women willingly became prostitutes. Further, he argued, since prostitution is legal in Australia, the money laundering charges were bogus. On the second day of deliberations, this argument led the jury to ask the judge a question:

If prostitution is legal in [A]ustralia, and money was made there by those means, would it be illegal to transfer funds abroad? Specifical[l]y the United States? Which laws are we to consider?

The judge responded:

With respect to Counts 13–21 [the counts of money laundering], . . . the unlawful activity in question is the recruiting, enticing, harboring, transportation, providing, obtaining, or maintaining a person, knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact that means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, or any combination of such means would be used to cause that person to engage in a commercial sex act, in violation of U.S. federal law, that is, 18 U.S.C. sections 1591 and 1596.

Under U.S. law, such conduct is illegal, even if it took place outside the United States, if the defendant was present in the United States at the time he was charged. As always, you should consider all of my instructions as a whole.

In essence, the legality of prostitution didn’t matter if Baston was forcing them to do it. Thus, he was wiring illicitly earned money back to the U.S. With that instruction, the jury convicted Baston. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison. In addition, the court awarded the victims restitution: $78,000 to K.L., $11,200 to T.M., and $10,070 to J.R. The court arrived at these numbers by calculating how much Baston pimped them for and, for some reason, deducting the women’s living expenses.

In the case of K.L., the court refused to consider an additional award of $400,000 because it was earned exclusively in Australia. The court agreed with Baston that awarding that amount would exceed the court’s authority under the Foreign Commerce Clause. The government cross-appealed this issue to the Eleventh Circuit.

The Circuit Court noted that there was scant case law on this Clause. So, it considered the scope of the clause by comparison to the Interstate Commerce and the Indian Commerce Clauses. Although the Eleventh Circuit suggested the Interstate Commerce Clause is narrower than the Indian Commerce Clause, this observation means little in practice.

Indeed, the panel used the Interstate Commerce Clause standard, applied to the Foreign Commerce Clause, and upheld the statute:

We need not demarcate the outer bounds of the Foreign Commerce Clause in this opinion. We can evaluate the constitutionality of section 1596(a)(2) by assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Foreign Commerce Clause has the same scope as the Interstate Commerce Clause.

In other words, Congress’s power under the Foreign Commerce Clause includes at least the power to regulate the “channels” of commerce between the United States and other countries, the “instrumentalities” of commerce between the United States and other countries, and activities that have a “substantial effect” on commerce between the United States and other countries.

Baston filed a cert petition with the Supreme Court, which was denied. But Justice Thomas dissented. He believed that it was time for the Court to review the Clause and provide guidance:

I am concerned that language in some of this Court’s precedents has led the courts of appeals into error. At the very least, the time has come for us to clarify the scope of Congress’ power under the Foreign Commerce Clause to regulate extraterritorially.

The courts of appeals have relied upon statements by this Court comparing the foreign commerce power to the interstate commerce power, but have removed those statements from their context. * * * This Court’s statements about the comparative breadth of the Foreign Commerce Clause are of questionable relevance where the issue is Congress’ power to regulate, or even criminalize, conduct within another nation’s sovereign territory.

In other words, the Court used sweeping dicta and wasn’t considerate of what it was saying. Nothing terribly new there. But when a lower court took those words seriously, Justice Thomas became alarmed about the possible consequences:

Taken to the limits of its logic, the consequences of the Court of Appeals’ reasoning are startling. The Foreign Commerce Clause would permit Congress to regulate any economic activity anywhere in the world, so long as Congress had a rational basis to conclude that the activity has a substantial effect on commerce between this Nation and any other.

Congress would be able not only to criminalize prostitution in Australia, but also to regulate working conditions in factories in China, pollution from power-plants in India, or agricultural methods on farms in France. I am confident that whatever the correct interpretation of the foreign commerce power may be, it does not confer upon Congress a virtually plenary power over global economic activity.

Consider if Congress decided that marijuana consumption should be illegal overseas and passed a law to that end. While it wouldn’t be able to enforce it against foreign nationals living abroad, it could conceivably prosecute them upon entering the U.S. And it could prosecute Americans for consuming marijuana legally abroad. All those college students back-packing through Amsterdam Europe could easily become criminals upon their return.

Because nearly any action can, in the aggregate, affect commerce, the Clause’s only limitation would be the Necessary and Proper Clause, which hasn’t been much of a limit. So, Justice Thomas is rightly concerned here, as he has been when interpreting the Interstate Commerce Clause.

Whatever the boundaries of the Foreign Commerce Clause, it is likely to be even less restrictive than Congress’s constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. As the Eleventh Circuit pointed out, the Court has interpreted the Interstate Commerce Clause broadly, despite federalism concerns. And federalism isn’t a concern here.

Armed with that broad power, Congress can criminalize conduct for U.S. citizens and permanent residents abroad, and punish visa holders coming into the U.S. for conduct that was lawful in their own countries. And that seems far beyond what the Framers could have intended that clause to mean. If the only thing limiting the government’s power to regulate overseas is its prudence and goodwill, we may find ourselves longing for the restraint of a Jamaican vampire pimp.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • Richard G. Kopf
    14 March 2017 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Andrew,

    As you rightfully point out, vampires are (were) people too. Perhaps they are even a race as I will discuss tomorrow. All the best.

    RGK

  • David Meyer Lindenberg
    14 March 2017 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    I feel enriched just knowing this guy exists.

  • Chris Seaton
    14 March 2017 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    You had me at Jamaican Vampire Pimp. You kept me hooked through “Pimpology: 48 Laws of Game.”

    Heat Magnet’s on fire today.