In January 2009, federal authorities accused two men of kidnapping a 16-year-old Buffalo girl and holding her for six months in Indiana.
The case attracted national publicity after the men were accused of kidnapping, forced labor, trafficking in forced labor and conspiracy, all felonies.
The two were characterized as vicious, abusive kidnappers, and — according to the indictment — the victim was repeatedly beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to cook and clean without pay.
But prosecutors now want the charges dismissed and say the case has been settled with one man pleading guilty in Buffalo’s City Court to a noncriminal charge and all charges against the other dropped.
“The government, in the interest of justice, hereby [asks] the court to dismiss the [federal] indictment in its entirety,” Assistant U. S. Attorney John E. Rogowski said in court papers.
Friday, City Judge E. Jeannette Ogden granted Yan Niang Soe, 23, a conditional discharge after he pleaded guilty to a harassment charge, the Erie County district attorney’s office said. He will avoid jail time if he stays out of trouble.
Johnathan A. Sullivan, 24, is not required to plead guilty to anything.
Both are from Logansport, Ind. The outcome is highly unusual for a case involving very serious charges.
“This was not a kidnapping case. It was a teenage runaway. She wanted to go with these men,” Lawrence J. Desiderio, Soe’s attorney, said Wednesday. “I think the government finally came to that conclusion. Mr. Soe is an immigrant to this country from Burma, and he is gratified. We worked very hard with the federal defenders office on this case.”
“With or without an apology, Mr. Sullivan and his family are greatly relieved that the government has moved to dismiss the indictment,” said Roxanne Mendez Johnson, assistant federal defender.
U. S. District Judge William M. Skretny must approve the dismissal requests.
If convicted on all the federal charges, the men would have faced at least a 30-year mandatory minimum prison term, said Marianne Mariano, who heads the federal public defenders office in Buffalo.
“These men were charged with forcible kidnapping and taking the victim over state lines,” Mariano said. “This is no joke.”
Why were the two men indicted in the first place?
“This is a case where police, federal agents and prosecutors proceeded in totally good faith, based on the information that was given to them,” Assistant U. S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter said. “When the case was first presented to us, we were told that a minor girl had left her parents, traveled across state lines and had been prevented from calling her family for a long period of time. We were very concerned.”
Are Soe and Sullivan entitled to an apology?
“No,” Mehltretter said. “This was a complaint that came to us from the family of a minor. Adults have to understand, when a girl that age is taken across state lines, she cannot legally give her consent.”
Mehltretter said she approved the decision to seek dismissal when she was in charge of the U. S. attorney’s office. She was recently succeeded by William J. Hochul Jr., who took office March 12.
The dismissal will spare the teenager from having to testify in federal court about what happened, according to Mehltretter. She said the dismissal was sought after talks with the teenager and her family.
Buffalo FBI spokesman Earl Gould said his office would defer all comment to the U. S. attorney’s office.
Since the day the two men were arrested, defense attorneys have vehemently insisted to The Buffalo News that the two men were innocent.
“These charges are being dismissed because Johnathan Sullivan is innocent,” Mendez Johnson said. She said her office conducted its own investigation and, “within weeks” of the arrests, found information showing Sullivan was innocent. She said that same information was available to the federal government.
The FBI said that, during a visit to Buffalo, Soe became infatuated with the victim after meeting her at a birthday party in March 2007, when she was 14 years old, according to papers filed by prosecutor Robert C. Moscati.