VANCOUVER - A man convicted of luring girls as young as 14 into a life of prostitution has become the first person ever convicted of human trafficking in British Columbia.
Reza Moazami was found guilty Monday on 30 of 36 charges, including one of human trafficking and multiple counts of living off the avails of prostitution with coercion, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.
"It is apparent ... that Mr. Moazami created an atmosphere of fear among the girls who worked for him as prostitutes," Justice Catherine Bruce wrote in her 188-page decision.
"Once (the victim) was a part of his prostitution business, he maintained strict control over her movements and her behaviour. He isolated her from her friends outside of the prostitution business. He made her fear the police."
His trial heard that between February 2009 and his arrest on Oct. 7, 2011, Moazami lured, coerced and threatened 11 victims aged 14 to 19 into selling their bodies for his profit. Nine of the victims were under the age of 18 at the time.
He targeted vulnerable girls. At least one was a runaway from the foster-care system, others lived in dysfunctional families, the judge noted in her decision.
His repertoire of coercion included free drugs and even a puppy. Once they were working for him, the court heard Moazami used threats and violence to keep them under his control.
He threatened harm to the puppy, he physically and sexually assaulted them, and in one case he used bear spray on a victim who left the hotel without his permission.
The 30-year-old had the teens and young women work out of hotels in Vancouver, Richmond and North Vancouver. He also took some of the victims to Victoria, Nanaimo, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal to work.
During six months of testimony, Moazami testified in his own defence, saying he didn't know the teens were underage. He also denied living off the money they earned while having sex with a dozen men a day on average.
The judge found his accounts self-serving.
"I concluded that Mr. Moazami was not a credible witness and ... I do not believe his evidence and it does not raise a reasonable doubt," Bruce said in court.
Moazami, dressed in a blue golf shirt, calmly flipped though the printed court decision as the judge spoke.
Three of the convictions have five-year minimum sentences and Crown counsel Kristin Bryson said she will ask the court for a significant prison sentence. Moazami will return to court Dec. 9 for sentencing.
Bryson commended Vancouver police and the victims for bringing Moazami to justice.
"It's very, very difficult to be a witness and when you're a teenage girl it's even that much more difficult. When you're a teenage girl having to describe atrocities that were committed against you, yeah, it was challenging," she said outside court.
Moazami was acquitted of one human trafficking charge after the underage victim recanted on the witness stand. But the sole human trafficking conviction is significant, said Sgt. Richard Akin, of the Vancouver Police counter-exploitation unit.
It's a "somewhat grey area of law," Akin said outside the court.
But the coercion of young women and teens into prostitution is a problem everywhere, he said.
"The priorities are the protection of children, the protection of juveniles whether they be male or female, their involvement in the sex trade," he said.
There have been some convictions in Ontario and Quebec on the country's relatively new human trafficking law, but this is a first for B.C., said Damienne Darby, Crown co-counsel.
A number of non-government organizations and police-victim services have worked with the victims since Moazami's arrest, she said.
"They've been through a tremendous amount. Some of them are doing extremely well and have put all this behind them and have built new lives for themselves. Others are still struggling," Darby said.