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U.S. high court rejects 'Dracula' sex trafficking case

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by a Jamaican pimp who styled himself as Dracula, even wearing gold-plated fangs, concerning his objection to being ordered to pay restitution to a woman he forced into prostitution in her native Australia.

The case involving Damion Baston centered on whether American courts can compel a non-U.S. citizen convicted of sex trafficking to pay restitution to a foreign victim for crimes committed outside the United States. Baston, convicted in Florida, argued the U.S. Constitution does not allow Congress to create laws covering conduct that occurs exclusively overseas.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the high court's action, saying it should have taken up Baston's appeal in order to reaffirm that the U.S. government has limited powers and is "not the world's lawgiver."

Thomas said Congress must be limited in its powers over foreign matters. Otherwise, Thomas wrote, "Congress would be able not only to criminalize prostitution in Australia, but also to regulate working conditions in factories in China, pollution from power-plants in India, or agricultural methods on farms in France."

Baston, accused of pimping women from Florida to Australia to the United Arab Emirates, was found guilty in Miami federal court in 2014 of 21 counts of sex trafficking and money laundering.

The justices left in place a March 2016 ruling by the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that made note of Baston's "Transylvanian tendencies," ordering that he pay $400,000 in restitution to a woman for the Australian prostitution.

According to court documents, Baston was nicknamed "Drac," short for Dracula, and sometimes dressed up as a vampire, complete with yellow contact lenses and gold-plated fangs. He forced numerous women to work as prostitutes for him by beating, humiliating and threatening to kill them, according to court papers.

Baston, a Jamaican national who was illegally in the United States after earlier being deported, maintained a muscular physique aided by having the women inject him with anabolic steroids, according to court papers. Baston learned how to be a pimp from a book called Pimpology, written by an author dubbed "Pimpin' Ken," and forced the women to call him "Daddy."

The legal dispute centered on a 2000 federal law aimed at combating global sex trafficking that gave U.S. courts jurisdiction over alleged sex traffickers if they were present in the United States, regardless of their nationality.

He was charged in connection with the forced prostitution of women including Katie Lang, an Australian who he met at a nightclub in Gold Coast, Australia, became romantically involved with and forced into prostitution. Lang has since spoken to the news media about her experiences with Baston.

Baston was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to his victims. The trial court, however, said he did not have to pay Lang for the proceeds of prostitution she earned for him in Australia because that would amount to unconstitutional government overreach. The appeals court reversed that ruling.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)