A Vancouver man accused of running a teen prostitution ring might not seem like a nice person in his Facebook messages, but that doesn’t make him guilty of anything, his defence lawyer said in her closing submission.
Reza Moazami is facing 36 counts, including charges of sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and living on the avails of prostitution. He has pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Moazami’s trial began last September and has heard from both the complainants – who allege he talked them into prostitution and kept much, if not all, of their earnings – and the accused, who has clashed with the Crown and judge but denied criminal wrongdoing.
On Monday, in B.C. Supreme Court, Mr. Moazami’s lawyer began her closing submission. Karen Bastow told the court Facebook messages that appear to link Mr. Moazami to the prostitution ring might make him look “nasty,” but do not constitute a crime.
“Mr. Moazami really looks like not a very nice person in a lot of these communications. … But looking like a nice guy has nothing to do with being convicted,” she said.
The Crown has said Mr. Moazami recruited vulnerable teenage girls, telling them they’d be leading glamorous lives in upscale condos. Once the girls were established, the Crown has said he would use a variety of strategies to ensure they continued making money, from coercion to intimidation to violence. The Crown has told the court he would introduce small dogs with some of the girls, and then threaten to hurt the animals if the girls didn’t do as ordered.
Ms. Bastow went on to take issue with some of the specific incidents highlighted by witnesses and the Crown, denying her client used coercion, intimidation, or violence.
She said there is “not much evidence” any of the sex assaults occurred. The Crown has alleged Mr. Moazami sexually assaulted six of the teens, five of whom were under the age of 18 at the time.
Ms. Bastow said some of the women had already worked as prostitutes and were not lured into the sex trade by Mr. Moazami. What’s more, she said, the women were young and beautiful and could have worked on their own or for someone else if Mr. Moazami did anything wrong.
“These prostitutes have options,” Ms. Bastow said.
The Crown has said the 11 complainants in the case were 14 to 19 years old at the time of the alleged offences. It has said nine were under the age of 18, and seven had never worked as prostitutes before meeting Mr. Moazami. Some of the teens were addicts, and most had family or school problems.
Ms. Bastow said, despite what the court may have heard, that Mr. Moazami simply did not commit an assault with a knife. She added that testimony around an incident in which he allegedly choked one of the teens was not credible.
Several of Ms. Bastow’s points appeared to be met with skepticism by Justice Catherine Bruce.
On the notion that the young women could have left Mr. Moazami and worked anywhere, the judge said they were teens, some with addiction problems, suggesting it would not be that easy to break away.
Mr. Moazami has said he at some point gave drugs to all 11 complainants. However, he denied the Crown’s suggestion that this was to get the girls addicted so they’d be easier to control.
The judge also took issue with Ms. Bastow’s claim that there was a “high risk” two of the teens had colluded in their evidence. Ms. Bastow conceded she had no evidence the collusion had occurred.
Justice Bruce said that while Ms. Bastow argued individual incidents did not constitute coercion, the judge might have to consider whether entire relationships were built on it.