Several people suspected of working in a Russian sex trafficking ring in Central Florida appeared in Orlando federal court Friday.
The first of those to appear was 25-year-old Tatiana Belinschi, who was recently indicted and arrested on charges ranging from racketeering to conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The 27-count indictment, unsealed this week, accuses Belinschi's ex-husband, Roman Caraiman, and Alexandr Postica of recruiting women to work as sex workers at massage parlors around the United States.
Federal authorities said Caraiman imported people from Russia and sought to bring women from other countries to the United States, all to work in the sex trade.
None of those indicted by the grand jury are U.S. citizens. Belinschi is from the Republic of Moldova and told the court today she is seeking political asylum.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bishop Ravenel told the court the evidence in the case is strong. The investigation involved undercover calls, wiretaps and surveillance.
The group's suspected criminal activities occurred in Orlando, Tampa, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit and Miami, he said.
Several of the suspects were arrested outside Florida, including Postica and co-defendants Saida Babaeva, 28, and Alina Priadko, 24.
Ravenel said in court authorities believe Caraiman fled to Europe.
Four others named in the indictment made court appearances Friday: Kateryna Krykovlyuk, Elena Shashurova, Vlada Blisciuc and Irina Luchina. They each face one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
Also indicted are: Elena Abushinova, Aleksandra Liubina and Natalia Fedorova.
The indictment alleges that the 12 worked together in a commercial sex business in Orange, Osceola and Hillsborough counties since at least July 2009. Their activities continued through this month, the charges state.
Caraiman, Belinschi and Postica are accused of using at least one website to recruit non-U.S. citizens to work in the sex industry in America.
Authorities said Caraiman and Belinschi placed ads for massage services on the classifieds websites craigslist and backpage, so they could solicit customers.
Nine of the suspects paid a portion of their proceeds to Caraiman, who then shared his money with Belinschi and Postica, the charges state.
Ravenel said after Belinschi was arrested, she confessed to the crimes.
The prosecutor told the judge Belinschi is too great a flight risk, and noted that she fled from a criminal case in another state.
Ravenel said Belinschi is unemployed, unauthorized to work, and the enterprise was significantly dismantled.
But public defender James Smith argued conditions could be set, such as electronic monitoring, that would guarantee Belinschi appears for future court dates.
He noted that she has a daughter, who is now in state custody.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Dietrich ruled in favor of the government's request to keep Belinschi at the Orange County Jail.
"I find serious risk of flight," he said.
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