State Seeks To Close Dutchess And Queens Based Travel Agency

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a lawsuit against the operators of a travel agency operating in Dutchess and Queens counties that arranged tours of South East Asian bars that serve as a venue for illegal prostitution.

"The company purports to be a traditional travel agency, but through its actions promotes prostitution and the abuse of young women," Spitzer said. "This suit seeks a halt to this egregious conduct."

Last month, Attorney General Spitzer secured a temporary restraining order from State Supreme Court Justice Christine A. Sproat prohibiting the business, Big Apple Oriental Tours, from advertising or promoting sex tours in magazines and other publications.

The suit names as defendants the owners of Big Apple Oriental Tours: Douglas Allen, 58, of Poughkeepsie; and Norman Barabash, 58, of Queens. Allen and Barabash, who operate out of a private residences in Poughkeepsie and in the borough of Queens are alleged to have engaged in a number of illegal activities in promoting their tours.

The suit alleges that prospective clients were taken to night clubs in the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia, and that the company’s tour guides negotiated fees and sexual acts with prostitutes and bar managers, who are locally known as "mama-sans."

Joselito A. Jimeno, Acting Head of Consular Post at the Consulate General of the Philippines said:

"The Philippine Consulate General in New York hails the lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General against "sex tour" operators as an important move in the international battle against crimes against women and children. In May of this year, the Philippines passed the "Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003" which prohibits sex tours in the Philippines and criminalized the use of the Internet to promote prostitution and sexual exploitation. The law prescribes punishment for trafficking in women and children for pornography, sexual exploitation, slavery and debt bondage. Legislation such as this, as well as strong and definitive actions by those countries from which tours originate, hopefully will send a clear message to those seeking to profit from the exploitation of women and children. The Philippine Consulate will fully cooperate with the Office of the New York Attorney General in the prosecution of the case."

A State investigator posing as prospective clients of the travel agency recorded a series of conversations in which company officials discussed these and other matters in graphic detail.

Spitzer’s office was alerted to activities of the travel agency by Equality Now, an international human rights organization that works to promote and protect the rights of women and girls. Equality Now had been gathering independent evidence regarding the activities of Big Apple Tours since 1996.

Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now said: "Sex tourism contributes to the demand for trafficking of women and it is a human rights violation. Obtaining a temporary restraining order against Big Apple Oriental Tours brings us closer to recognizing the illegal activities of sex tour companies and their severe impact on promoting violence and discrimination against women around the world. We commend the Attorney General for this important and unprecedented initiative."

Spitzer’s civil suit seeks injunctive relief prohibiting respondents from operating an unlawful business, civil penalties, and costs.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Garin of the Attorney General’s Poughkeepsie Regional Office.