Simpson Thacher team fights for trafficking survivor whose testimony led to successful prosecution of international trafficking ring

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

Sarah Pfuhl is a former partner in WilmerHale’s Investigations and Criminal Litigation group.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

For more than six years, the Simpson Thacher team has worked tirelessly to obtain T-visas, and later legal permanent residency, for Maria and her young daughter, Estella. With Simpson’s guidance, Maria provided invaluable evidence and testimony to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York during the course of two major criminal investigations, ensuring that the man who trafficked her and other senior members of his trafficking ring were extradited from Mexico and brought to justice. 

The Simpson Thacher team included pro bono counsel Harlene Katzman; partner Mark Stein; associates Matthew Levy, Kristina Green, Alyssa Watzman (formerly of Simpson), Lara Pomerantz (formerly of Simpson), and Jonathan Lieberman (formerly of Simpson); former pro bono specialist Carola Beeney; and former pro bono coordinator Hillary Chadwick.

Breaking free from her traffickers

After being trafficked to the U.S. from Mexico by the notoriously brutal Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking syndicate, Maria spent more than ten years being victimized by her pimp and other members of the syndicate. Finally, fearing for the safety of her young daughter who was still in Mexico, Maria found the courage to flee to the Mexican consulate in New York.  The Mexican consulate reached out to Sanctuary for Families and Sanctuary’s immigration and anti-trafficking staff immediately mobilized, moving Maria into a Sanctuary shelter to keep her safe.

A law firm able to help Maria – and help take down a trafficking syndicate

The next steps would be complicated, as the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Lori Cohen, explained:

“In addition to her own legal and immigration issues as a trafficking victim stranded in the U.S., we realized Maria brought with her a huge trove of potential evidence against the Granados-Hernandez trafficking ring.  We needed a law firm that could not only handle the immigration issues Maria was facing, but also wade through a mountain of evidence and help Maria assist the U.S. authorities in what could potentially be a huge take-down of an international trafficking syndicate.  We knew Simpson Thacher would be able to handle this kind of complex case.”

The Simpson team dug into Maria’s case, helping her navigate meetings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security investigators, as well as federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York, as they all worked to develop criminal cases against members of the syndicate with Maria as a key source of information.  At the same time, Simpson worked to successfully obtain a T-visa for Maria, and T-derivative status for her daughter, who had been paroled into the U.S., ensuring that they were reunited and could remain in the U.S. together legally.

Justice is done

The information Maria provided was instrumental to the charges announced at the end of 2012 by the then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, against multiple members of two Mexican trafficking rings, including Maria’s own trafficker, Antonio Lira-Robles.

Despite already successfully obtaining a T-visa for Maria and T-derivative status for her daughter, the Simpson team continued working with Maria to help her prepare a victim impact statement and were at her side when she stood up in Brooklyn District Court to speak at the 2014 sentencing hearing of her trafficker.  The Simpson team was at Maria’s side again two years later when she spoke at the sentencing hearing of the mastermind of the trafficking ring, Paulino Ramirez-Granados.  Ultimately, both Antonio Lira-Robles and Paulino Ramirez-Granados were sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to Maria in the sum of $1.2 million each.

In the midst of all of this, Maria learned she had Stage III breast cancer.  The Simpson team didn’t waver, working to quickly finalize and file permanent residency applications for both Maria and Estella while Maria underwent chemotherapy.  Tireless advocates for their client, the Simpson team coordinated with Maria’s doctors and provided Maria with critical emotional support.  When Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were filed in October 2014, Simpson requested expedited review, unsure whether or not Maria’s cancer treatment would be successful.

Rebuilding

By the time Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were granted nine months later, Maria’s cancer was in remission and she and her daughter had started to rebuild their life.

For more than six years the Simpson team fought for Maria and her daughter every step of the way.  Today Maria is cancer free.  She has witnessed her trafficker successfully prosecuted and sent to jail (along with other members of his trafficking ring), and seen her daughter flourish.

Earlier this year, in a fitting end to Maria’s brave journey, members of the Simpson team were on hand to celebrate as Maria got married.  The Honorable Judge Pamela Chen, who had been one of two lead E.D.N.Y. prosecutors on the team that put Maria’s trafficker in jail, officiated at the wedding.

Reflecting on his experience working on Maria’s case, Simpson associate Matthew Levy, said:

“Maria was extremely brave to endure the case after what she has been through.  I am glad that our team was able to play a part in helping Maria and Estella get their lives back.”

Maria is certainly glad as well. When asked about her legal team, Maria praised their skill and commitment saying:

“I am grateful to the Simpson Thacher legal team for helping me with such a long and complicated case. It has been so many years, but Simpson has supported and protected me at every turn. Thanks to them, I have been able to start a new life with my husband and daughter.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Simpson Thatcher team’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event here.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

 

Schulte Roth & Zabel team successfully advocates for domestic violence survivor against abuser and aggressive opposing counsel

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (SRZ) for their incredible and tireless efforts on behalf of “Rose”, a woman who fled her abusive spouse and faced numerous obstacles in Family Court as she fought for custody of her eight-year-old son.

Jaclyn Neely is an litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  She works on a number of pro bono matters with Sanctuary, including the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project, and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Taleah E. Jennings, Mari S. Dopp, and Carly J. Halpin of leading law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (SRZ). They are being recognized for their incredible and tireless efforts on behalf of “Rose”, a woman who fled her abusive spouse and faced numerous obstacles in Family Court as she fought for custody of her eight-year-old son and navigated a Child Neglect and Abuse case brought by the Administration for Children’s Services against her child’s father.  The SRZ team addressed the ever-increasing challenges in stride, achieving successes along the way and ensuring that Rose was not subjected to the aggressive tactics of her husband’s attorney. 

Complicating Factors

When Rose fled her home with her eight-year-old son to relocate to a safe space away from her abusive husband, she had no idea what legal obstacles lay ahead.  Shortly after she left, Rose sought a temporary order of protection from her husband and also filed for custody and child support in Family Court.  Mere weeks after Sanctuary for Families began working with Rose and referred her case to the Schulte Roth & Zabel team—consisting of Taleah E. Jennings, Mari S. Dopp, and Carly J. Halpin—the Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) filed a Child Neglect and Abuse case against Rose’s husband.

The ACS action, otherwise known as an “Article 10” case, greatly complicated the legal tableau and was an additional stressor on Rose, who was already going through a great deal of stress after finally escaping a long-term abusive relationship.  While the Article 10 case was filed against Rose’s husband, not Rose, the case was based on his abuse of Rose and their son’s exposure to that abuse, and Rose was thus compelled to play a central role.  The strain on Rose was heightened when Rose’s husband hired an unduly aggressive private attorney.

Combatting Aggressive Tactics

Instead of seeking documents and testimony from ACS, the opposing counsel sought unreasonably broad categories of documents from Rose and tried to submit Rose to a deposition and her son to a mental health evaluation.  Both experiences would have been extremely traumatic, and would have forced Rose and her son to revisit the abuse she suffered in explicit detail.

Luckily, Rose had the support of Sanctuary and the Schulte Roth team, who were able to effectively counter the opposing counsel and win over the Family Court Judge, as well as the attorney assigned to the child.  Taleah, Mari, and Carly put their strong legal writing and oral advocacy skills to use, and the team successfully opposed the motion to submit the child to a mental health evaluation.  Their tenacity led the father’s attorney to withdraw many of his previous unreasonable requests.

Thanks in large part to their strong advocacy, the opposing counsel approached Rose’s legal team and proposed a settlement for the various other pending legal actions on very favorable terms—including full custody for Rose and an agreement that the father would go to therapy.  The parties continue to work toward a global resolution to resolve the various outstanding legal actions.

Reflecting on the Case so Far

This experience has been both rewarding and challenging for the SRZ team.  They appeared in court on numerous occasions, drafted voluminous court filings, and negotiated with the husband’s lawyer at length.  For Mari, a mid-level associate, this case has been a great opportunity for her to appear and argue in court and establish a strong relationship with a client whom she could help on a personal level.  “Safety is something I take for granted,” Mari explained.  “To be able to use the skills I have as a lawyer to help ensure the safety of someone else has been incredibly rewarding.”

Taleah, a partner in the Litigation Group at SRZ (and also a member of the Sanctuary for Families’ Board or Directors), praised the collaboration between Sanctuary and her SRZ team, explaining that they all worked together throughout the case—from strategizing to drafting and appearing in court.  Sanctuary provided support and institutional knowledge but also allowed the SRZ team to take ownership at every stage.

Maria Zhynovitch, the Sanctuary attorney supervising Rose’s case, applauded the work of the Taleah, Mari, and Carly, and the trust they were able to cultivate with Rose right from the beginning.  Maria noted,

“this was uncharted territory for myself and some of my supervisors . . . a lot of the issues raised in the process were really novel for us.  There was no blueprint.  But the Schulte attorneys were completely undeterred by this.”

Maria praised both the quality of the team’s research and writing and the compassion they exhibited toward Rose.  “The way in which they related to Rose was quite tremendous.”

While the SRZ team continues to represent Rose in her ongoing legal matters, the positive effects of their advocacy are already apparent.  Empowered by her legal team, Rose is not only living a life free from abuse, but she is also enrolled in an educational program and living in a safe space with her son.  The SRZ team is committed to representing Rose as long this fight continues.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Schulte Roth & Zabel team’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event here.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

About Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (www.srz.com) is a full-service law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and London. As one of the leading law firms serving the financial services industry, the firm regularly advises clients on corporate and transactional matters and provides counsel on regulatory, compliance, enforcement and investigative issues. SRZ has a long history as a leader in pro bono legal work and a firm-wide legacy of contributing to the greater good.

Marjorie Stein: devoted, reliable, generous

Marjorie is a 2017 Pillars of Change Honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

Marjorie Stein was introduced to Sanctuary through her work at Hogan Lovells, one of Sanctuary’s law firm partners. Marjorie coordinated a toy drive among Hogan employees to benefit Sanctuary’s clients, her first of many important volunteer contributions.

She tells us that she was “very happy to handle events” for Sanctuary as she has always been passionate about the protection and empowerment of women.

Thanks in no small part to Marjorie’s steadfast commitment to Sanctuary, Hogan has become an even closer partner of Sanctuary in recent years and in 2014 Sanctuary was voted by Hogan employees to be their local “Touch” charity.

Marjorie has been at the forefront of multiple events and initiatives, including: gift drives and fundraisers benefitting our holiday programming and other campaigns, support of Sanctuary’s Zero Tolerance Benefit and Pillars of Change events, providing a customized legal administration training program for Economic Empowerment Program graduates, hosting career days for Sanctuary clients, and spearheading Sanctuary’s client-focused Halloween event.

Marjorie has witnessed firsthand the extraordinary impact the Halloween parties have had on our clients. Hogan staff, under the coordination of Marjorie, spend days decorating their offices and common area, designing interactive themed spaces, and collecting new costumes for each child residing in Sanctuary’s five shelters.

“I remember when I was told at the first Halloween party that one of the women said it was the first time she had seen her child smile in years. The joy and happiness of the kids at the Halloween Party is just awesome.”

Working with our Economic Empowerment Program students and graduates has been especially rewarding for Marjorie and it is evident how much she enjoys talking with clients, sharing her own story of climbing the corporate ladder, and getting to know the people that she has helped in numerous ways on a more personal basis.

Emily Lo Bue, Director of Corporate and Volunteer Relations says of her experience working with Marjorie, “Marjorie’s input in the process of developing new and better partner programs and services for our clients is invaluable. She takes an idea and makes it a hundred times better, engages people to assist, and coordinates amazing events and initiatives that meet needs that we otherwise would not be able to meet.”

After all that Marjorie has done for Sanctuary’s clients, they have taught her something which she is quick to share with others, “women are the same no matter what their backgrounds are. We all have the same hopes and dreams.”

Sanctuary hopes to work with Marjorie and Hogan Lovells on more exciting projects for a long time to come!

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2017 to recognize Marjorie and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!

Junior Hypolite: loyal, resourceful, selfless

Junior is a 2017 Pillars of Change Honoree

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

Junior Hypolite has been volunteering with Sanctuary for Families for an astonishing 14 years!

Utilizing his skills as a new professional driver, Junior’s first volunteer role was delivering invitation packets for our Zero Tolerance Benefit to board members and longtime supporters, providing a quick, efficient, and cost-effective way of expanding our reach. This was not without its challenges, he tells us, “I had little experience driving in Manhattan. It was an adventure!”

Junior’s eagerness to assist Sanctuary in any way he could has led him to become an essential part of many of our client-focused events and initiatives. He regularly picks up and delivers large quantities of in-kind donations we receive from individuals and corporations throughout the city, allowing the agency to expand our capacity to receive more items.

This important work allows clients to access items that may otherwise be unavailable to them. Junior’s support in delivering holiday gifts to our clients at Sanctuary’s other locations in the outer boroughs is just one example of the way in which his assistance allows Sanctuary to best meet the needs of our clients throughout the city.

“It’s a privilege to know that my work has a concrete, tangible impact on clients.”

It’s not just Sanctuary clients that benefit from Junior’s versatility and flexibility. On countless occasions, Junior has come to the aid of staff who urgently need to attend important meetings with clients, providing much needed support and accompaniment.

Junior admits that he wasn’t always so invested in issues surrounding gender violence. Through his work at Sanctuary, he has now become a passionate advocate for survivors and has taken this experience to the individuals in his own life, sharing information about domestic violence and supportive services.

Volunteering at Sanctuary has a special, personal meaning for Junior. Sanctuary attorneys assisted one of his family members during a crisis situation and helped them petition for an order of protection. Junior credits Sanctuary for its genuine compassion for his family member.

And we credit Junior for all of his incredible, selfless service which has consistently gone above-and-beyond the call of duty. His dependable nature allows us to consistently maximize our ability to transport important resources to our other locations, event sites, and ultimately our clients.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2017 to recognize Junior and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!