Judge Upholds Novel Use of Labor Laws in SlaveSpace.com Case

Q Boyer
BROOKLYN — Judge Allyne Ross of the Eastern District of New York upheld a “novel application” of forced labor and sex trafficking laws in the trial and conviction of Glenn Marcus, the webmaster of extreme bondage site SlaveSpace.com.

Marcus, 53, was found guilty in March of sex trafficking and forced labor charges, but was acquitted on obscenity charges stemming from the operation of his website. Marcus faces up to 30 years imprisonment on the labor and trafficking charges.

In a bid to overturn his conviction, Marcus’ attorneys Maurice Sercarz and Julia Gatto argued that while Marcus’ conduct might be reprehensible to most observers, his behavior came in the context of a domestic relationship with his former “slave” who brought charges against him (a woman identified only as “Jodi” in court).

Sercarz and Gatto argued that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was not intended by Congress to pertain to private conduct and domestic relationships, and that the term “commercial sex act” did not apply when the defendant was being paid for appearing in photographs of sex acts, rather than being paid for the sex acts themselves.

The attorneys further asserted that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury establishing a connection between the defendant’s coercion within his personal relationship with Jodi, and the commercial sex and labor elements, both of which involved her working on Marcus’ website.

In the decision issued last week, Judge Ross disagreed, reasoning that neither the language of the statutes nor their legislative history supported setting aside the jury’s verdict in the case. Ross said that the jury, after seven days of deliberation in the case, arrived on a fair interpretation of the evidence.

“The defendant has provided no reason why the court should question the jury’s apparent determination that Jodi was a credible witness, and the court finds none,” Judge Ross wrote in the decision issued last week. “After a close review of the evidence presented at trial, the court finds the commercial aspects to be sufficiently pervasive in the nonconsensual portion of the relationship between Jodi and the defendant that a new trial on these grounds is not warranted.”

Sercarz said that he would appeal the decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I think this is a case calling for lenity and a narrow reading of the statute,” Sercarz said, according to the New York Law Journal. “If you read the statute as broadly as the government would have you read it, it is going to subsume within it a lot of day-to-day, innocent conduct. It seems to me there is no federal interest being vindicated here.”

While she conceded that “Congress did not expressly indicate its desire to regulate labor or services performed within the household,” Judge Ross reasoned that “the legislative history provides no cause to believe that Congress intended that type of labor to be excluded from the legislation’s reach.”

“While this case undoubtedly presents a novel application of the forced labor and sex trafficking statutes, the evidence at trial was sufficient to show that defendant’s conduct fell within the plain language of the statutes,” Judge Ross wrote.

The case is U.S. v. Marcus, 05-CR-457.