A Portsmouth lawyer has filed a federal lawsuit against four hotel chains alleging they ignored “the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose instead.”
Attorney Michael Rainboth — who previously brought high-profile cases against the maker of an addictive fentanyl spray and on behalf of patients harmed by a Hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital — filed the new suit on behalf of a woman identified as K.B. She is described as legally declared a “vulnerable adult” and a survivor of sex trafficking in New Hampshire.
The lawsuit is one of multiple filed across the country with similar accusations and a request is pending to consolidate them in an Ohio court.
U. S. District Court of New Hampshire Judge Andrea Johnstone allowed Rainboth’s new suit to be filed without the woman’s name and took under advisement a request for her to remain anonymous, until the named hotel chains file responses to the suit. Rainboth’s Dec. 9 suit is filed against Intercontinental Hotels Corporation, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Best Western International and Marriott international.
The defendants, who are out-of-state parent companies of local hotel chains, have not yet responded to the suit and no lawyers have filed appearances yet to represent them.
Mike Somers, CEO and President of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, said he had no comment on behalf of the group because, due to holiday schedules, the board has not yet met to discuss the allegations that their industry facilitates crime.
Rainboth’s civil case alleges K.B. was first trafficked for sex in 2016 at age 26, by a boyfriend who knew she was sexually abused as a child and manipulated her into thinking “they were in a romantic relationship,” while he sold her for sex at New Hampshire hotels. She alleges she was advertised online against her will, tortured and exploited under duress at hotels in Concord, Keene and Gilford, where staff knew or should have known she was being victimized.
“K.B.’s trafficker would give her to other traffickers who bought, sold and required her to sexually service paying strangers as she endured brutal physical assaults, psychological torment, verbal abuse, and false imprisonment at the defendant’s hotels as the defendants did nothing but profit from her exploitation,” the suit alleges.
Rainboth cites multiple published reports calling hotels and motels, both luxury and budget, “ideal venues for crime and sex trafficking in particular.” His lawsuit references nationally-reported news stories about sex trafficking at hotels across the country.
One of them is a December 2018 federal case that alleged a husband and wife engaged in an interstate sex trafficking and prostitution scheme, including at three motels in Portsmouth, one in Dover and a fifth in Kittery, Maine. An indictment for that case alleges Shou Chao Li and Derong Miao transported woman to various residences and motels throughout New England “and deprived them of documents, food, clothing, room keys and other things to ensure they were unable to leave such locations without the consent and assistance of the defendants and their co-conspirators.”
The archives of seacoastonline.com are filled with stories about police making sex-trafficking arrests at Seacoast hotels and motels.
The Department of Homeland Security reports “traffickers often take advantage of the privacy and anonymity accessible through the hospitality industry.” The federal agency also offers tips for hotel staff to recognize trafficking including short-duration room rentals and extended stay with few or no personal items.
Rainboth alleges in his suit that “the hospitality industry has the greatest reach to prevent, identify and thwart sexual exploitation where it is most likely to occur.”
“As aptly stated in a publication by the Cornell University School of Hospitality, ‘the hospitality industry is undoubtedly involved in the sex trafficking industry… and therefore has an inherent responsibility to deter the crime and can be liable for failing to do so.'” The publication is a 2017 thesis by Giovanna L. C. Cavagnaro.
Like the thesis, Rainboth argues trained hotel staff can recognize human trafficking and “hospitality companies have both the power and responsibility to make sex trafficking difficult for the offenders.”
The lawsuit alleges violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, negligence, negligent supervision and training, and unjust enrichment. It asks for a jury trial, an award for damages, medical expenses, lost wages, emotional duress and attorneys fees. While no amount of desired damages is cited, the suit notes it exceeds $75,000.
The hotel chains have until the end of the month to file answers to the suit with the federal court.