News

POLICE: Hamad Andwar and Tiffany Harvey face human trafficking-related charges

London police lay human trafficking charges, shut down Fantasy World Escorts

By Jennifer O'Brien, Kate Dubinski, The London Free Press

(Postmedia Network file photo)

(Postmedia Network file photo)

Instead of lingerie-clad women in suggestive poses, some would-be customers of a city escort agency who looking for services online found themselves facing a message from London police Tuesday.

“The www.fworld.ca domain has been closed,” said the message posted on a black screen that had once been the online home of London-based Fantasy World Escorts. “The London Police Service continues to investigate.”

And in case it isn’t perfectly clear what police think of the agency, the next line spells it out:

“Victims of human trafficking are encouraged to contact the hotline at 519-660-5842 for support."

Police said soon that message will face anybody who types up the agency's address, but as of Tuesday night, some people could still see the original website.

Police said Tuesday they shut down the agency and charged its owners with several human trafficking-related offences after a seven month investigation triggered by complaints from the public. So far they’ve identified two victims, and say there are more.

“The investigation flowed from a number of complaints we received from the public. There were concerns about illegal advertising and human trafficking occurring,” said Det. Sgt. Bill Berg, head of London’s organized crime section.

So far, investigators have identified two adult women and are providing them with support services that include connecting them with agencies, he said.

Berg said police believe there may be more women involved and have set up the hotline for others to call.

At least nine women were being advertised through the escort agency before it was shut down and Berg said police believe between 20 and 30 have been involved at some point.

“Some might get in and be willing participants, but later they might feel oppressed and intimidated. There are elements of intimidation . . . identified through this investigation,” he said.

More than $100,000 in cash, two vehicles, pepper spray and a Taser were seized during Fantasy World searches on Saturday, said police, declining to speculate on whether or how the weapons had been used.

Berg said police conducted nine searches Saturday, including at the main business office of the agency as well as two locations where “meetings” took place.

Among the charges issued against the suspects are three counts of “advertising another person’s sexual services” — the first to be laid in Canada under the country’s new and controversial prostitution laws. The new laws criminalize advertising and purchasing sex, but decriminalize its sale.

In a news release Tuesday, the London Abused Women’s Centre praised the move to shut down the agency and to lay the charges.

“The exploitation of women and girls in prostitution and sex trafficking is life-threatening,” the centre said in a release.

“It is a human right for women and girls to live free of exploitation in prostitution. (We) applaud the actions of London Police Services in helping women and girls live their lives free from violence.”

Some sex workers and their advocates have condemned the anti-advertising laws, saying it takes away women’s ability to advertise their services and check out possible clients in advance.

Though sex workers can’t be charged for advertising their services, Internet platforms, newspapers and other print publications can be charged.

The advertising offence carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison on conviction.

The Free Press wrote about Fantasy World Escorts in 2011. Back then, the agency was located in a three-storey mansion on Commissioners Road East. It provided both in-house and out call services, charging as much as $360 an hour, a Free Press investigation found.

Months later, the owner of the Commissioners Road property, who said he was unaware it was being used as an escort agency, evicted the tenants.

“Because of the Free Press article last time, they went underground (and) it was much more quiet,” Berg said. Police wouldn’t say where the agency was operating before it was shut it down this week.

Hamad Anwar, 26, and Tiffany Harvey, 24, are charged with three counts each of benefiting from sexual services, possessing proceeds of crime, three counts each of advertising another person for sexual services, two counts of trafficking, two counts of procuring or exercising control and one count of trafficking a person over 18.

kate.dubinski@sunmedia.ca

jennifer.obrien@sunmedia.ca

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About Fantasy World Escorts

The website fworld.ca has been shut down, but The Free Press has looked at a cached version of the page that was available until this weekend:

  • There were nine featured women in the “Escort Gallery.”
  • Site had a discussion forum and a “must read” “Ethics” page.
  • Free VIP sign-up was available, as were weekly discounts, a “rare pictures” and “detailed reviews” page.
  • Here is how the site described itself: “Fantasy World of London was established in 2008 and quickly gained respect and praise for being a world class agency that caters to gentlemen who appreciates (sic) class. We are pleased to accommodate all our client’s (sic) desires and requests to the best of our capacity.”
  • Clients were told the agency was “extremely selective”. “All of our models go through an intensive process consisting of being interviewed to determine if they qualify and meet the standards. Soon afterwards, they must have a full medical examination done.”
  • The agency described its workers as “beautiful, sophisticated and enticing females lying in wait for gentlemen in need of ... both intimate and social engagements.”