Crime

Foreign girls lured by yoga jobs wound up sex slaves on Miami Beach, indictment charges

He lured two female students from a chilly landlocked nation between Russia and China with promises of a job and room and board on sunny Miami Beach. They were told they would organize yoga retreats, schedule appointments, answer the phone.

Weekends, like other young students, would be spent on the sand, in the water, maybe clubbing along Ocean Drive or Washington Avenue.

Instead, according to a federal indictment, Jeffrey Jason Cooper — using the identity Dr. Janardana Dasa — forced the two girls into sexual slavery. Erotic massages offered from a condo at the Bayshore Yacht Club in North Bay Village would lead to sex, or — Cooper threatened — the girls would not be paid and their visas would be revoked.

Potential clients were told in advertisements placed by Cooper, according to the federal complaint, that they could meet “Beautiful ladies from Kyrgzstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Ukraine offering sensual body rubs.”

And this: “All gorgeous and friendly. Their ages range from 18-22. ... Plenty of parking.”

Dasa, the name Cooper purportedly used, is a sanskrit word common in Indian texts that means “servant of God.”

Earlier this week, a federal grand jury convened by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, indicted Cooper, 46, on charges that could land him in prison for decades if he is convicted. He’s been charged with wire fraud, importing aliens for prostitution and sex trafficking.

“Our client maintains his innocence,” Cooper’s attorney Dennis Gonzalez Jr., told Newsweek.

According to the criminal complaint, Cooper recruited foreign students from the nation of Kazakhstan, the last region to break away and become independent when Russia dissolved in 1991. The visas were offered through the U.S. State Department’s Summer Work Travel Program, which allows students a summer abroad if they’ve completed one semester of college or university.

Cooper, the complaint alleges, offered the girls work at his yoga studio, “Janaranda’s Yoga and Wellnes S.A.” Federal investigators say the studio never existed.

“Cooper recruited the foreign university students on false pretenses, knowing that no such yoga studio existed,” reads the complaint.

Florida ranks among the top three states in the U.S. in human sex trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Yet a recent investigation by the Florida Center for Investigative reporting found very few sex traffickers go to prison.

Federal investigators maintain that Cooper lured customers to South Florida by offering young Central Asian women in South Florida’s sunny climes. It says he placed advertisements on a site called Backpage.com.

Public records for Cooper show some addresses in recent years on Miami Beach and more recently post office boxes. Attempts to reach Cooper this week were unsuccessful.

Also puzzling: The indictment doesn’t list any dates or mention if the alleged sex shop was open and running up until the time of Cooper’s indictment, which was on Monday. The 12-page indictment only mentions a three-month period in 2011 when Cooper is alleged to have conned a Chicago company into sponsoring the students.

Questioned about dates, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami refused to elaborate.

Foreign nationals need a sponsor to get a temporary work visa. The indictment alleges that Cooper contacted a company in Chicago to sponsor the girls and that he lied to them about the job description, saying they would do office and clerical work.

It lists three dates in May and June 2011 when Cooper spoke by phone with someone from the Chicago firm to discuss the workers’ duties. On June 9, 2011, the indictment says Cooper said the girls “had not been, and would not be, asked to perform any type of massage work.”

Yet, according to the indictment, Cooper wrote several false written job offers to recruit foreign nationals as clerical workers for the yoga studio.

“At all times, Jeffrey Jason Cooper knew that no yoga studio existed, and that foreign nationals working for him in the SWT program would not be working as clerical workers, but instead would be expected to perform erotic massages and sex acts,” says the complaint filed this month.

It was signed by Huy Nguyen, a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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