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Testimony turns hostile in Vancouver trial of man charged with running prostitution ring

Crown lawyer Damienne Darby addresses the court while the accused, 29-year-old Reza Moazami, writes in the prisoner's box in this court drawing.


A man accused of running a teen prostitution ring says he does not remember several Facebook and text messages that appear to link him to the operation – part of a combative day of testimony that at one point prompted the judge to threaten to remove him from the courtroom.

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.

The 11 complainants in the case were 14 to 19 years old at the time of the alleged offences. The Crown 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 addicted to drugs and all lacked stability in their lives.

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Mr. Moazami was cross-examined Thursday by Crown lawyer Kristin Bryson, and his time in the witness box yielded several testy exchanges.

Karen Bastow, Mr. Moazami's lawyer, at one point rose to object to a question from the Crown. She accused Ms. Bryson of having "tricked" Mr. Moazami into answering a question about a hotel stay.

Mr. Moazami – who had already been told by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce to answer the Crown's questions and to stop making arguments – interrupted while the judge was responding to Ms. Bastow. The judge told Mr. Moazami that if he spoke out of turn one more time she would have the sheriff remove him from the courtroom so he could testify by video conference.

The judge went on to call Ms. Bastow's objection "improper" and said the defence lawyer would have had the opportunity to raise it once the cross-examination was complete. Justice Bruce also scolded Ms. Bastow for crafting her objection in a way that indicated to her client how he should respond.

Much of the day consisted of Ms. Bryson questioning Mr. Moazami about the Facebook and text messages. He said he could not remember many of the messages and said multiple people had been using his phone, so it was possible someone else had sent them.

When he did admit to sending some of the messages – such as one exchange in which the Crown said Mr. Moazami was trying to get a teen to come back to the operation – he testified he didn't actually mean what he wrote.

"So when you said 'call me' you didn't really mean call me?" Ms. Bryson asked.

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"No," Mr. Moazami answered.

"And when you said 'miss you' you didn't actually miss her?" Ms. Bryson said.

"No," he said.

The Crown has said Mr. Moazami recruited vulnerable teenage girls, and alleged he sexually assaulted six of them, five of whom were under the age of 18 at the time.

The Crown has said Mr. Moazami told the teens 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 outright 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.

Mr. Moazami said Thursday he at some point gave drugs to all 11 complainants. However, he denied Ms. Bryson's suggestion that this was to get the girls addicted so they'd be easier to control.

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Mr. Moazami was arrested in October, 2011, in an operation Vancouver police called Project Sabr. The department said it chose the name because, in Farsi, sabr means probing a wound or examining something to its very bottom. Some of the evidence in the case has been translated from Farsi.

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