Human trafficking victim trying to recover $8M award

By Matthew Chaney
BridgeTower Media Newswires

RICHMOND, VA — A Virginia attorney representing a victim of human trafficking earned her client an $8 million judgment in Kansas earlier this year, which is believed to be the largest single-plaintiff human trafficking award in United States history.

Collecting the award, however, has proven difficult, as the defendants in the case, Royall Jenkins and the entities he effectively runs, The United Nation of Islam, the Value Creators LLC and the Value Creators Inc., have been mostly unresponsive to court pleadings and orders.

Betsy A. Hutson, a lawyer with McGuire Woods in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, said that the federal judge in Kansas recently issued a bench warrant for Jenkins’s arrest for contempt of court.

“It’s an order for U.S. Marshals to apprehend him and force him to comply with those court orders and post-judgment discovery,” she said. While Hutson was reluctant to reveal how much of the award has been collected up to this point, she said that she and co-counsel are doing what they can to set appropriate expectations, while doing everything they can to collect.

The case dates back to early in plaintiff Kendra Ross’s life, when her mother became involved with The United Nation of Islam, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam. Ross was 2 at the time. Beginning at the age of 11, Ross was forced to perform unpaid labor for the organization and was forbidden from attending public school, according to a court order published in May.

For the next 11 years, she was moved around the country from UNOI-owned business to business where she performed unpaid labor before returning home to households where she was expected to prepare food, provide childcare and clean for a household of up to 18 people.

Hutson estimated in court documents that Ross worked close to 40,000 hours during that time, while enduring physical and emotional abuse, limited access to medical attention and, at times, limited access to food. This averages out to about 70 hours of work a week. She was also forced to marry a UNOI member in 2011, but the marriage was never legally recognized. And then, in 2012, at the age of 21, Ross finally was able to leave the group for good.
Despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from her experiences, Ross filed the suit in federal court in Kansas, where The United Nation of Islam is based, in September 2017.

After Jenkins and the other parties failed to respond, other than to file an erroneous motion for writ of certiorari, Ross asked that the court enter a default judgment and made a damages request.

After considering Ross’s evidence, the court granted the motion for default judgment and granted an additional motion for attorney’s fees on May 23. In all, the court awarded $453,517 in restitution, $2,920,000 in emotional distress, $3,373,517 in punitive damages, $282,677 as liquidated damages, $907,034 in trebled damages under RICO and $1,800 in conversion damages.

The court also awarded $117,184 for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. In June, Jenkins filed a pro se motion for a new trial, claiming he was never properly served notice of the lawsuit and that he was unable to attend hearings due to medical restrictions caused by a stroke which rendered him unable to walk.

In an October ruling, the court denied the motion, citing Jenkins’s inability to file a pro se defense on behalf of the businesses involved.

“If any defendant business organization wishes to seek relief from the default judgment, it must do so through a properly admitted member of this court’s bar,” Judge Daniel D. Crabtree said in the order.

In the same order, Crabtree also found that Jenkins failed to file a timely response and that the substantial requirements to justify a new trial were not met.

In the same order, Crabtree granted Ross’s motion for a writ of execution, thereby opening the door for financial discovery, which Hutson said is still being worked through.

“Right now we’re engaged in post-judgment discovery,” she said. “The challenge is to recover the money that is owed. We’re trying to garnish his bank accounts and the bank accounts of the businesses.”

Additionally, Hutson said that the organizations have since changed their name, making it even more difficult to figure out where the remaining assets are.

“We’ve continued to make significant progress in identifying residential and business properties throughout central and eastern United States,” Hutson said.

“The next step is to work with sheriff’s offices in each county to seize the property.”

Hutson said that despite the bench warrant, Jenkins has not yet been apprehended.

All publicly available phone numbers for Jenkins and the Value Creators were no longer in service as of Nov. 13 and the organization’s website is no longer available. As a result, neither Jenkins nor other representatives for the organization could be reached for comment.

Hutson spoke optimistically about Ross’s future, regardless of how much of the damages get collected in the end.

“It’s been a real privilege to represent Kendra in obtaining a measure of justice for the horrific treatment she endured,” she said. “It’s been such a meaningful case to work on. Watching Kendra make this progress is remarkable. She went from being in a cult for 19 years to now going to college and having the strength to face her perpetrators.”

Despite the problems, Hutson said the endeavor has been more than worthwhile while acknowledging that more work remains.

“The goal is to shut them down,” she said. “It would be great if the civil case would spark a criminal investigation.”