Two Charged In 'Sex Tours' Scheme

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Two operators of a New York travel agency have been indicted for organizing "sex tours" to Southeast Asia, the first such case involving a United States-based company, the state attorney general said Monday.

The trips arranged by Big Apple Oriental Tours were allegedly a way to solicit customers for prostitution rings in the Philippines and Thailand.

"These defendants claimed to be operating a traditional travel agency. It is far from that," Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said. He said the travel agency's actions "led to the systematic exploitation and suppression of young women."

Douglas Allen, 59, and Norman Barabash, 58, were charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of promoting prostitution. They pleaded innocent Feb. 27. If convicted, they could face up to seven years in prison.

Barabash's lawyer, Daniel A. Hochheiser, said the case is weak and the indictment is politically motivated.

According to a separate civil lawsuit brought by Spitzer in 2003, Big Apple Oriental Tours conducted a marketing campaign that included videos, a Web site, brochures and customer testimonials.

A brochure promised "unforgettable adventure vacations for single men to paradise," according to Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for Spitzer. The trips cost about $2,500 for seven to 10 days.

No listing could be found for the travel agency. The company was run from Allen's Poughkeepsie home and Barabash's home in the New York City borough of Queens, Spitzer said.