KC Star series on human trafficking wins RFK award

by April 26, 2010
Kansas City Star human trafficking illustration Robert F. Kennedy award

This illustration ran with The Kansas City Star’s series on human trafficking, which won a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

The Kansas City Star won a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for its series last year on human trafficking. The awards recognize work that focuses on human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the United States and globally.

The Star reporters spent six months and traveled the world, “from Guatemalan migrant shelters to the deadly streets of Tijuana, investigating America’s war against human trafficking. They found that America is losing the battle — even in its own backyard,” the paper reported.

For example, reporter Mark Morris writes that “the largest suspected human trafficking ring ever uncovered by U.S. law enforcement brought its victims into the country on commercial airliners, using completely legal documents.” It used the H-2B visa program, which allows businesses to hire foreign workers for seasonal jobs when no Americans will accept the positions. Because the government rarely investigates the visa applications, many human traffickers use the program to bring workers here legally, Mark writes.

 On its application for 87 H2-B visas, a company called Five Star Cleaning said it had gross annual income of almost $1.6 million in 2007 and employed more than 90 employees since January 2007. “A check by authorities with state incorporation records — available online without cost — would have shown that none of that was true,” the Star reported. The company wasn’t even incorporated until Dec. 18, 2007.
“While Five Star also claimed to have the money to pay workers once they arrived in the United States, a review of records by The Star showed that the company conducted no bank activity in 2007. Government watchdogs also might have noticed that GLS and Crystal Management, two other companies charged with [trafficking]  in Kansas City, each submitted identical financial information on their visa requests. Indeed, both companies reported the exact same gross annual income — $1,434,347 — and the same annual profit down to the penny — $125,414.11.”
Today’s Tip: Confirm information.
Just as the Kansas City team, which also included Laura Bauer and Mike McGraw, verified information, you should do the same when reporting on companies.

Check incorporations and search for aliases. Not every company with inaccuracies is involved in fraud, but confirming the data will make your reporting more accurate.

Check with your state’s corporations or financial institutions department to confirm whether the business is incorporated. BRB Publications’ free public records portal aggregates public records, including incorporation records, where available, for all states.