Utah AG Sean Reyes: “Sound of Freedom” and Human Trafficking — #52

Steve Hsu: Welcome to Manifold. My guest today is Sean Reyes, the attorney general of the great state of Utah. Sean and I have known each other for years. Now we met at some highly secret events attended only by oligarchs. tech billionaires were the oddballs out. Sean is, to me, the all-American dream.

Grew up in Los Angeles. He traces his heritage to the Philippines, Spain, and also has some native Hawaiian ancestry. So, he's the most American of all of us.

And he's an amazing success story. College athlete, law degree at Berkeley. And now the Attorney General and I think, you know, someday I think if Sean is a U. S. Senator, I will not be surprised. So, Sean, welcome to the podcast.

Sean Reyes: Steve. I appreciate that. I love the intro to how we met with some oligarchs and tech founders. Let me just say, though, you are absolutely. Absolutely. so, it's this kind of secret off grid, um you know, group that convenes a lot of influencers from different sectors. And the first time I go, I'm sitting next to like you and Nobel Prize winners and these founders, these brilliant people.

And I've got full imposter syndrome. I'm like, what the heck? Am I doing this? And if I hope all the manifold listeners know what a baller you are. I'm imagining they do. I'm guessing that over the years they've gleaned how brilliant you are and how accomplished you are. But man, I'm telling you, we, we, that that group is impressive and being and being able to meet people like you.

Has been such a blessing, such a really cool benefit including to my state. I hope we'll talk about that later on with some of the technology that you've brought to bear and introduced to the world. But thank you for the intro. Thank you for having me on. It's an honor and I hope that we can, you know, hit some important topics for your viewers and listeners.

Steve Hsu: I'm, I'm super excited to have you on and, you know, if you remember, we booked this like two months ago because your schedule is so busy. And I booked it at the time because I read something in the press about this new movie, Sound of Freedom, which came out over the summer. And then it rang a weird bell for me because I think when I first met you, you told me about some of your actual, you know, not just prosecuting criminals, but, you know, catching criminals and being involved as a volunteer in overseas operations which I think you're going to tell us about it rang a little bell for me.

I was like, wait a minute. I got to ask Sean about this movie because and then I realized you are an associate producer of the movie. So, I'm glad we could book you and before we get into all that stuff, I want you to tell your story because I just gave a little outline of your story. But again, like you to me is the all-American dream.

So, tell us about growing up in L.A. Going to B.Y.U. Going to Berkeley. Tell us about it.

Sean Reyes: Well, like you, Steve, we've, we've all got great stories, and that's something I think every human being has a story and a story worth hearing and listening to. I'm, I'm a little bit, you know embarrassed that you would choose mine out of so many other stories that exist in the world.

But since you're asking, I'm, I'm proud of my heritage and the roots that I have, and that's really the story. The people who really took the great risks and sacrifices to come to this country and, and, and build a better life for themselves. And, and I, the beneficiary of that being a second generation American.

So, again, I wish we could talk about your story because it's as inspiring as you're, you're, you're seeming to make mine inspiring to you.

But on my dad's side, you hit it right on the nose. He's Spanish. Heritage and Philippine Filipino heritage, so he's Filipino American and the, you know, the Philippines was under Spain for 400 years.

So Philippine culture is a lot closer to Latin American countries, Spanish speaking countries, than even many Asian cultures. And my father, short story because I'd rather talk about him, his, his story is the great American story, again, I'm a, I'm a byproduct of. Of his miraculous story, but his uncle was President Ramon Magsaysay of the Philippines in the 1950s, a beloved president, by all accounts, an extremely successful one.

The Philippines was a close ally to the United States you know, before, during and post-World War II. And so, this was kind of the golden era for the Philippines. The peso was almost one to one with the dollar. The Philippines at that time was like an extension of the United States. Similar to, like, Puerto Rico as a territory, they weren't a U.S. territory, they were their own republic, but culturally they were so much like the United States. So, Uncle Mon Ching Mug Sai. Sai was world renowned and a war hero, and that's, my dad grew up in the shadow of a larger than life... It was his godfather, technically his cousin. It was my grandfather's first cousin.

So let anybody, you know, try to claim that I was falsifying my heritage, I want to be clear. My grandfather and the president were first cousins. They grew up together. They were, you know, best friends. They raised their families together. But for my father, culturally, he called him uncle. That's how we refer to elders in ours and many other cultures.

And he was his godfather. So, dad was like, you know what? We grew up in and around Malacanang Palace, but when you have an uncle that famous, you're always only defined by... Oh, you're the president's nephew. And so, my dad, being adventurous and entrepreneurial, taught himself how to draw as a kid, so he could write and draw comic books to sell to his neighbors.

My father came from the poorer side of the family, just like Uncle Ramon, my, the maternal side of my, my dad's line. They were very rich billionaires that own the mayor of Manila, some ballas power works, a lot of. A lot of affluence, but my, my dad said, you know, we had enough to eat lunch and he taught himself literally how to draw and shine shoes and often would use the shoeshine pigments and dyes, um to, to paint.

And from that, he later, when he was in his late teens and into his early adulthood, was discovered by the Vatican. And selected to be a personal artist for the Pope, the Holy Father. So, as a young man, he painted portraits of the Pope that hung in the Vatican. That was quite a big deal for you know, this little kid from the Philippines, far from Rome.

But he also loved to sing, but got kicked out of, as he tells it, the local choir, the church choir. He wasn't very good. So, again, determined, went into a closet, practiced, and practiced, taught himself how to play the guitar. His mom was a piano teacher, so she helped. And became so proficient at imitating Elvis Presley that he had a band.

in his early twenties was playing a local club and the lead singer, the one that was the kind of the, the mainstay of the club got sick. And so, the manager kind of freaked out and said, hey, can you step in for him tonight? Lo and behold, dad saying was so popular. They didn't, they just kept him when the other guy got better, and he was relegated.

to perform later or a different place, I don't know. But, months later, Bob Hope, who you and I have heard of, some of the younger generation may never, jokingly say, kind of like the Justin Bieber of his time, he discovered my dad and liked his sound so much that he had Pop open up for his USO tours.

You know, Mr. Hope would play for G.I. 's. around the world. So, my dad now is playing for Bob Hope, painting for the Pope, and loves film and theater so much that he just buffaloed his way. That's a term. It's not a technical term. It's kind of just talked his way onto a movie set and said, they said, are you having the experience?

And he said, of course, you know, he used to take his mom's sheets when he was a kid and do old school projections on the movies when talkies first came, you know, it was like that kind of stuff. And so, they led him on, and he worked his way up to become a line producer for MGM Studios, doing large blockbuster Hollywood films, like Beach Red with Cornel Wilde and others.

And so, this young man, I mean, he, he really was, was killing it in the Philippines. had his own radio show and TV show, both produced it, so he was behind the camera, sometimes he was in front. He had enough money to buy three homes for his ten brothers and sisters and his parents. and about that time, a very ambitious mayor in the Philippines ran for the Senate and won, and later made a bid for the presidency, and my dad opposed him, and the senator won the presidency.

My dad probably at that point, should have read the political winds he was still outspoken against the then president. and, and some of the president's strong-arm guys came to make threats to my father and his family, kind of literally with a gun to his head and said, look, you're part of the aristocracy.

You're part of the, you're one of us. Why are you speaking out against the president? And my dad, who had served a stint in the Philippine military doing some intelligence work said, you know, I, I unfortunately know a little too much about him and his past, and I don't think he's good. And so, they said, look, just shut up.

You got it made in the shade with a glass of lemonade. Keep your mouth shut. You'll be fine. Let the president do his thing. Go ahead. You're, you know, you've, you've, you've made a lot for yourself here. Don't risk it or ruin it. But my father was a little too stubborn and principled and he kept speaking out.

And so literally in the middle of the night many months later, the former first lady, his aunt, his auntie Luz, came to him and said, son, we, we have intelligence that you are in danger. Your life might be, you could, you could be captured, potentially jailed, executed. A lot of other political dissidents have disappeared.

No one knows where they are, and so we want to get you on a plane right now. And she had arranged for him to be able to study and work. in the United States on a visa, but you know, he was like, wait a minute, how long am I going to be gone? Cause I've got a girlfriend, a band, I got business deals. I've, I have a life.

And she said, you can kiss your brothers and sisters goodbye. You have enough time to do that. And then we're taking you and you're on a plane. And he was like, well, where am I going again? She said, Los Angeles. And he was like, Oh, awesome. Like, he was kind of excited. I've always wanted to play Hollywood, you know.

But he goes, Auntie, when, when do I come home? And she said, you don't, you don't come home. you know, not while President Marcos is in power. You've, you've kind of made your bed. And we, we can't protect you while you're here. We may not be able to protect you in Los Angeles, but we probably have a better chance.

And that was Ferdinand Marcos. Um senior.

You know what, Sean? So first of all, let me just say, I had no idea about the richness of the story of your mom and dad, but I'm really glad you shared that with us. You know, I kind of was hoping to hear more about your story, but we'll, we'll come back to that later.

Steve Hsu: You know, I want to say the reason that I saw you and noticed you at this event where we first met many years ago was When I see another Asian looking guy who's kind of like on the big side, I'm like, Hey, it's another, it's another dude like me who probably played some sports and you know, against the grain growing up.

So, I think I just came over and started talking to you. So, you know, it's a, it's kind of a natural connection,

Sean Reyes: Well, my bro, if I can do this really fast, BYU undergrad, Cal Berkeley for law school, Bolt Hall, I guess we're not allowed to call it that anymore. but I spent almost 15 years trying and litigating cases at the largest law firm in the state of Utah. Chose Utah because it's a good balance. It's quiet, it's clean.

It's a great family environment, but it was growing and had a lot of tech opportunities. Tech was kind of my background and my love. And so, I represented a lot of technology companies that then pivoted to be a tech GC, went on to be a partner in a tech venture fund. Still love that. I love collaborating and bringing pieces together and growing and scaling companies and then solving problems, especially social impact problems, things like human trafficking or drug addictions, stuff that we've worked on fighting in the criminal justice environment.

And, and then I, I was an accidental you know, candidate. I ran out of frustration because of some of the things my predecessors were doing. And then before I knew it, I was, I actually lost an election, but then was appointed when my predecessors resigned in, in, in the biggest scandal in the history of our state.

I mean, political, biggest political scandal, I should say. all sorts of allegations of fraud, misdeeds and indictments that came down with my predecessors. So, I was asked to come in and do a turnaround. I thought it would be like a year or two, Steve. I, I, everything was going so well with our venture fund, Accelerate Ventures, and we had so many deals going and so much.

And, you know, these big titans that name, I'm not, I don't like to name drop, but you know, they're the founders. A lot of the same. people and kind of folks that you and I have met within that mastermind group. we were, we were doing deals with them, and I thought, okay, I can come help the state because they need a turnaround, and they need a lawyer and I've got the skill set.

I think I can do that for a year or two, fully expecting. That was 2013. And once you get into an environment and a culture and, and you see the impact that you can make. I couldn't leave. I really needed to change the whole thing, rebuild it. In many ways, my predecessors had put us essentially on, the same way the NCAA can put an athletic program on the death penalty, that's where we were.

We have, you have no scholarships, you don't even have blocking sleds, you barely have uniforms. Like, go out and win some national championships for us. And I, I just like, I'm not gonna leave. I'm gonna rebuild this. I'm going to make this once proud office proud again, we're going to do great legal work.

We're going to help the state and find a lot of ways and in that there were three areas particularly that I decided to champion right away because I saw such a need. One was in the realm of substance abuse, particularly the opioid epidemic that was ravaging people, but it's not limited to just opioids.

I mean, alcohol use disorder takes. It's 10 times, if not multiples of that, more lives and causes umpteenth amounts more damage than even the opioid epidemic, which is horrific unto itself. Teen suicide was an area where I just thought, you know what, this is the most vulnerable among us. And there's so many drivers and factors, but while everybody smarter than me is figuring out what causes it, I want to create some tools and some programs to help keep kids alive while we figure that out.

And we did some really landmark things here in Utah with tech, the SafeUT app. We created the 988 number that became a national law that every state now is required to have. we didn't pick 988, my, my buddy Ajit Pai when he was head of the FCC picked it, but we, we were the ones that catalyzed that whole process from a state level to a national level so that people just like 9 1 1, Steve, just like we know as Americans, if you're in trouble physically, Everyone.

I mean, even a two-year-old can tell you to call 911 because they respond to physical emergencies, fire, heart attack, all of that. It's crucial, crucial, critical. But on the invisible side of, you know, people who are cutting, who have eating disorders, who have mental behavioral challenges like depression that's so crushing that you would rather not live.

You've been victimized and you don't have a place to go. You're in a cycle of addiction. Where do you go? If you call 911, you don't get much. Help. And so, 988 was designed to be that analog to 9 1 1 on the mental, emotional, behavioral health side. You know, if that was the only thing I ever did in my life, I'd feel like it was worth it.

And now we're pushing so that every state builds the infrastructure behind that. So, when I came in, I started talking about, look, there's so much death and destruction because of, you know, teens and depression. And I said back then, I think social media is a big driver, but then you're also looking at.

Sex and sex exploitation and human trafficking. I can't believe that modern day slavery still exists today. Organ harvesting, labor exploitation, and forced labor. And, and I, I, these are like the areas that I was talking about. Of course, I mentioned addiction. in recovery. And, the last thing was white collar fraud, whether it was online fraud or white collar.

The manifestations we see now with boosters coming in and organized retail crime and theft, catalytic converters, porch pirates, I mean that whole that, that whole sector of, of fraud. And I had represented companies you know, with and around the SEC and investigations and, and so I knew that.

Affinity fraud, exploiting trust in relationships was a big deal in my state because people share a lot of commonalities, and it's easy for predators to exploit them. So those were like the four pillars that I had. And I said, man, I'm just gonna launch. And all of the advisors, especially ones from D.C., are like, don't talk about those. Maybe the fraud, the other three, you sound like the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. Like, it's just death and doom and destruction. But I thought, you know what, I'm not gonna be here long term anyway. I'm just gonna push it out loud. I'm not gonna listen to them. I'm so glad I didn't.

I paid them their consulting fee, fired them and was like, you know, go back to dc No offense, they're, they're, they're good folks in DC too. But I just didn't like that approach. It was all about, hey, we, you are political, you just need to get reelected. It's all about, you know, the next cycle. It's all about, I'm like, you know what I, I, for me it's about solving problems and getting stuff done and making a real impact.

I think if you do that, hopefully people of all backgrounds will want you in office and they'll reward you, but it shouldn't just be about polling what's popular and what's going right or well. So, that's been, that was 2013 and I've won several reelections since then and I just announced, instead of running for U. S. Senate a couple weeks ago, that I would run for one more term, at least as AG. and I think at the AG spot, it's the, it's kind of the perfect balance. You have enough authority and enough visibility to meet with world leaders. Senators, governors, CEOs, and really effectuate change. But you're not so tied down in that cauldron that is Washington, D.C., and the Beltway that's nonstop, just media, soundbites, and that you have to get sucked into all that. I can, I can go to D.C. and do a Fox interview or CNN interview. I can testify, Congress, but I can come home and really move the needle where I think it makes the most difference. So, I prayed a lot about that decision.

I talked to my wife, both God, God said the Senate path in D.C. right now is not for you. Maybe in the future, I don't know. My wife said it's definitely not for our younger kids and for us right now. So, unless you're planning to go alone. So, I'm like, I got an answer from God and my wife, two most important inputs that I have. It doesn't really matter.

But beyond that, I love what I do. I think being able to work with minds like yours to innovate.

And we may have skipped over two or three different other things we're going to talk about, but you have helped bring real solutions. And you are one of the most genius individuals that I know. And you, you had this incredible career in physics and particles and cosmos.

And then you pivot a little bit over to the genetic side and then you just dominate that. You take that over and instead of chasing purely just monetizing it. You've struck a really great balance. You've stayed in academia, yet you've lent your expertise and your brilliance to help us develop projects, us being society in general, that can really make a difference in solving cases, in bringing closure to families, in apprehending predators, in empowering victims, and giving them more confidence, and survivors.

So important. And so, you know, I, I think we could talk about that right now, or we can talk about anything else that you want.

Steve Hsu: Let's spend five, just five minutes because the original reason why I called you over the summer to invite you on the show was because I had heard about this movie.

Sean Reyes: Oh, yeah, that's

Steve Hsu: you're an associate producer of this movie.

Sean Reyes: And I want to talk about that. I don't want to give a short shrift to that, but let's talk for 5 minutes. Let's talk about.

Steve Hsu: and I think,

Sean Reyes: talk about and or any of these companies are awesome that are really moving.

Steve Hsu: Let me, we'll say a few minutes about genetic genealogy and solving crimes and then we can pivot back to the movie.

Sean Reyes: Yeah, please. Careful.

Steve Hsu: Another topic you and I've discussed over the years is the ability to solve cases, sometimes really cold cases, 50 years, even 100-year-old cases.

Sean Reyes: A

Steve Hsu: a few cells worth of DNA.

So, for example, the company that I helped co-founded does this. Has solved cases just from a few cells of in one case, some semen that was on a bra strap and they solve the case and locked up a serial rapist in the Dallas Fort Worth area that had gotten away with many, many rapes for and was just a free man living actually a few miles away from the girl that the girl's family that he had raped and murdered, you know, 30 years ago.

So, Cases like that, it's very, very affecting to me when Author solves a case like that. No credit to me, because I'm not really involved in their day to day, you know, caseload. But I am proud of being one of the people who saw that genetic technologies would enable this kind of new way of doing crime fighting.

And so, it's... A little bit, you know, every time you introduce a new technology, I guess I'm kind of experienced with this. Now, it takes years before the full power of it is really exploited. And so, in this case, we have a new technology that can be used to find close relatives of almost anyone, whether it's a victim or the killer, we can find a close relative of that person, and then the police can continue the investigation with the suspect pool narrowed down to typically, Election Day was trying.

For example, as it was reported in the New York Times, the case up in Moscow, Idaho, that stabbing that happened in the middle of the night of those roommates, that case, the police were having a lot of trouble solving that case and it's reported. I'm not, there's a gag order in the case.

So, I'm, I'm not saying anything myself about it, but this is what was reported in the New York Times. They first sent the sample, To the state crime lab and using the old genetic technology, which is CODIS markers, but couldn't find any match because the killer was not in any FBI database or anything like that.

But then when they sent the sample to us within a few days,

Sean Reyes: Okay.

Steve Hsu: it's reported. that Othram identified the killer to the Idaho police. And so, when this guy I forgot his name, when he drove across the country over Christmas break with his dad, the police already knew that he was the killer. And they then further identified him by taking garbage from his father's trash and showing that the DNA on the trash was a 50 percent match to the killer.

In the case, so super powerful technologies and very cost effective, you know, you can save hundreds of hours of detective time, or even thousands of hours of detective time with this 1, you know, new technology, but it's so slow for law enforcement to understand that, you know, the cost benefit, you know, they could.

They could solve many more cases and have more money available to investigate other things if they went to the genetics earlier in the case. If they wait too long, they've already expended a lot of resources and perhaps could have solved the case much earlier. So that is one of the things I'm very passionate about.

And, you know,

Yeah, and you as an attorney general, you, you can understand, like this law enforcement, these, these police departments, they often, they have a lot of budgets for salary for manpower, but they sometimes have very limited technology budget for technology. But if they were somehow able to reallocate a little bit, I think they could be much more effective, actually, in the number of cases they close.

And so, you know, our author and our CEO, David Middleman, who's, who's just awesome, is just out there all the time trying to push the utilization of the technology forward. Hmm.

Sean Reyes: Yeah, I was just sitting an hour and a half ago next to a legislator at an event talking about this very issue about budgets. And reallocation and orienting and educating. Look, I love the law enforcement community. By the way, one of my best friends is taking over in a couple of weeks for the international association of chiefs of police.

He's the park city police chief, Wayne Carpenter. He's a strong believer in these technologies and there's going to be a push globally to implement more of these kinds of gold star technologies. These, these really vetted real technology. So always, there are always technologies out there. Some are more legitimate than others.

And the, the real legitimate ones suffer from some of the, the reputational problems when, you know, some of the snake oil gets sold, but yours is real. We've worked with the author, and we know. And I, maybe for your audience, because they're like what does the Attorney General have to do again with that stuff?

So, in my state, the AG has criminal jurisdiction. In a few select states in D.C. they don't, but in most they do. Mine, I do, and mine is a strong AG state in the sense that I have original jurisdiction from misdemeanors all the way up to capital crimes. So, we could investigate and prosecute. I have my own...

agency of very highly trained investigators. We get to pick the top detectives and superstars from every agency, and they come because we have the best cases, and we have the best technology, and we do incredible work both on the investigation side. Now the power of having housed one agency investigators and prosecutors.

Some may say, oh, that sounds like too much government in one office. Well, I used to think that until I came in and saw how efficient it is. And if you have the right safeguards in place, you have a prosecutor from the very beginning of the case saying, this is exactly what we need. This is what we don't need.

So, it's more efficient. This is how you get it. And they work with law enforcement to make sure that all constitutional considerations are given and that everything's done with it constitutionally. But then when the case is done and it's through being investigated, typically most law enforcement in America, they have to then hope that the prosecutor will actually take the case.

care about the case and charge the case and go forward. Here, we already know, because they're working under the same AG umbrella, and under the aegis of the same jurisdiction, they, we're ready. So, we're efficient, and we're powerful, and using tools like Author Safe UT, we've addressed thousands, not hundreds, thousands of cases, resolving them, everything from just gun touch crimes, to murder cases.

In the state of Utah, and so we're, we're huge proponents. But when I first came in, because I came from a tech background and running businesses, I'm like, why are we sending stuff that takes a year and a half or two years to the crime lab to get back? No offense to those in the crime lab. They're great folks, they're great public servants.

But it's what they were given, what they were using. And because they didn't have the orientation to say, I can come up with something better, I know people who can. They didn't. And that, that's one of the things that's beset law enforcement for hundreds of years. It's one of the areas where we've innovated the least in terms of something that's so important for them, you know, health, safety, and welfare of our people.

And so being able to, to infuse a lot of technologies, we've brought DNA technology. We have brought for a training program using virtual reality. We have thousands of agents, federal. State, county, city, tribal that come through every year and we put them in scenarios where it could be interacting with an autistic child on the street where they have to use and recognize what stimming is and realize that's not somebody who is being belligerent and talk them down and not use force and not use deadly force all the way till school shootings and scenarios like that where they may have to Use force to protect others those types of tools are invaluable and at first I got a lot of resistance and law enforcement as you just said was very skeptical.

They're a skeptical lot to begin with, so you'll, hey, I've got these, they're like, we don't want to see any more of your magic beans. But one by one by one, we've had so many successes along that route. Real time technology, harnessing data, and AI in a positive way. Look, the cartels are using it, the bad guys are using it, we want to use it too.

Now they call me all the time, AG, what do we have next? I have law enforcement from other states calling us, saying, AG, what, what's the next thing? Because... Once they see the vision of how powerful these tools are and how transformational they can be for law enforcement, it's amazing, you know, and it could be even lower tech.

You just take one, one dog that can sniff out drives and discs that might have child pornography on them. I can, I can try to clear a room and have 10 of my agents spend three hours and they don't find anything. But now we've mobilized a dog that's trained to sniff those particular devices out.

And within seconds, we now know where the computer chips are that are housing all of this stuff. And we can execute the other ones. We can arrest them right then and there. Take them into custody and do what we need to do to prosecute the case. Anyway, I love tech. One of the reasons I've decided to stay in law enforcement is I want to bring even more tools like Othram and others.

To help us do our jobs. We have incredible public servants, but they're beaten down. Morale is really low in law enforcement. They don't have the tech to keep up with the criminals. They don't have the pay. They don't have the respect like they used to. There's defund the police movements. There's a lot of disrespect for authority and some of it is deserved but a lot of it is not and these are brave great folks and the more tech we help bring to them, the more excited they get about staying in, the more we can recruit and retain.

So that's that, that's that aspect of it.

about the movie that you mentioned. I think, and I don't know, but it's, we're close to if not having just gone over 300 million in box office sales. Primarily just through domestic showings of the film Sound of Freedom. But we are about to launch internationally.

And the excitement there, I think we could 5 or 10x what we did in the U. S. because as bad as trafficking is in the United States, and it is bad, let me tell you, it's in every state, in every community. It hits people of rural, urban, suburban backgrounds and living conditions. Human trafficking is one of those evils that will affect anyone.

You know, people are, oh, it doesn't hit the rich. Well, yeah, ask Elizabeth Smart's family, a very great family in Utah in a wealthy neighborhood, and she's taken right from her home and trafficked for years by Brian.

Steve Hsu: Is that true? Is that true? I don't know that story. So, Elizabeth Smart was actually trafficked? Mm hmm,

Sean Reyes: yeah. Well, trafficking is not always does not always require abduction. So that's one thing.

Most trafficking isn't abductional. Some trafficking happens in people's own home or, or, or little boys or girls or men or women are exploited. They have, they're forced to turn tricks. A lot of prostitution is, is, is trafficking just by another name. But yeah, Elizabeth was abducted and taken and forced into sexual slavery by her by this perpetrator.

And so are many others in the United States, but it's even worse, Steve. And by different estimations, there are tens of millions, if not, you know, dozens of millions or scores of millions out there of men, women, and children who are forced into servitude. Sex trafficking gets a lot of attention. Labor trafficking and indentured servitude may be even.

larger in number in terms of the number of victims affected. you have organ harvesting. It's, it's, it itself has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, especially fetal tissue. illegal adoptions, illegal conscriptions into military and militia around the world. Like I said, it's every, in every state, but it's also in every country.

For some reason, unlike drugs, which we, we have agencies and the war on drugs and all of these things focused on drug cartels for 30 years, you know, up until really the last decade where we've made quantum leaps in terms of education and resources still have a long way to go, by the way, but I'm saying.

We've seen a lot of improvement over the last years, probably more than in the last 10 years than in the previous 30, where people just didn't, it didn't register, or it was too gruesome or grotesque or too heavy that people just didn't want to deal with it. And I remember,

Steve Hsu: it, in my, in my circle, Sean, a lot of people, like when this movie came out, people were saying, this is QAnon stuff, this doesn't really happen in the real world. How, how do you answer that? I think, I think when I first met you, you told me a story about how you actually went on one of these sting operations, right?

And somewhere abroad, right? And maybe in Latin America. So maybe, maybe you can just tell us.

Sean Reyes: yeah, well, I, I, I have, I've been on a number of undercover operations under the auspices of, because I want to be really clear about this. There's lots of misperceptions about. How these types of things happen. no, it's not purely a QAnon conspiracy. Are there people who ascribe to QAnon principles that are also against human trafficking?

I hope so. I hope everybody is against human trafficking. But it's really easy to try to demonize perhaps like one or, or characterize an issue by saying, hey, there's this one group that supports it. You know if that's true, you can say you're, you're at Michigan State, right? You're, you're, you're great football teams, great basketball teams.

I guarantee you that there's at least one Michigan State fan who is a white supremacist. Something that you and I abhor that I'm sure most of your listeners would agree is not a positive thing. How fair is it to say that the Michigan State football team is a white supremacist, you know, initiative because there's some white supremacists that are fans of Sparty?

I mean, I don't think it's fair at all. Similar type of situation with fighting human trafficking. Look, they're Democrats, Republicans. It's not a conservative issue. It's not a liberal issue. It's not a Democrat or Republican issue. It's a human issue. Does it exist? Absolutely. I've seen it, not just because I've been undercover overseas.

As an invited guest of other attorneys general in other countries, of law enforcement in other countries, we can do stuff that they can't do. Why, Steve? Because take for example, Haiti. And I've done operations down there. It's not Haitians that are having sex with underage kids. It's Americans. And so, what you need are other people who look like Americans who can go in and infiltrate cartels and set them up so that real law enforcement can come in.

Now the Haitians are very appreciative of the work. Colombians in the country I've been in, Colombia, Mexico, I've been in various countries. I've done these operations at the behest of them. We follow their rules and their guidelines. Sometimes it's frustrating because they're even more strict than U.

S. jurisprudence. On when you can execute a warrant, when you can arrest people, how much information that you have to have to go to the next level in the prosecution. But, because we're invited guests of theirs, it's the same being a confidential informant for them in other countries as the confidential informants that I use.

Here in the state of Utah who work under our authority and jurisdiction. So, to be clear, I have no authority or jurisdiction there. They trust me because I come from a background of running a law enforcement agency. and they know that I've done these operations in our state. but it, so it, exists.

I could, I could address these along so many levels, but I want them to know it doesn't just exist overseas. And in third world countries, it's certainly happening there, and I could, Steve, I could spend whole episodes talking to you about these operations. They're legal. We don't necessarily go under the jurisdiction of the Department of State or Department of Homeland Security.

There are too many rules, regulations, treaties, and they've told us, if you go with us, you may not go. If you go as an invited guest, again, there's nothing prohibiting you from going with another nation, as long as you're abiding by all international rules and U. S. I mean, laws, there's, there's, there's nothing that prevents you.

So, we have been successful being those confidential informants to be able to infiltrate, gather intel, set up these traffickers so that they bring the kids out of these hell holes that they're holed up in, that they're that they're hiding them in to have sex with Europeans or Canadians or Americans.

and then we can take them down. We help them take them down. We help them. Often though, we get arrested with the bad guys because it's part of the, the, the, the ruse, right? We stay undercover so that we can still work in that country or in that city. Now that the Sound of Freedom has come out, it will probably impact our ability to do that.

So, the reason why I wasn't in the film, my, you know, my character, the person who was going to play me or my name is my, I and my wife, we just thought, you know, it's a little too risky. And so, if there's a sound of freedom to maybe I'm in the person that, you know, my character, but they're definitely in that movie.

There are situations that there are people who took pieces of operations that were me in the operation or that I was a part of. so, we abide again. I want there's no vigilantism in that we're helping other countries while we're doing that. We're bringing our resources, our technology. Our money, our connections, and contacts, our know how, how to put these cases together.

We've testified, we've helped them. and then most importantly, Steve, I want to make this point. The rescue is critical. But the aftercare, whether it's in another country or here in the United States, is the most important part. Helping the survivors try to reclaim some of their innocence. Trying to help them put their lives back together.

Just the physical damage to their bodies is brutal. It's gruesome the tearing there's a I mean that some of them are offered up as sex objects and slaves Dozens of times a day so imagine the toll that that takes on someone they start as young as you know 11 12 years old they're drugged so that they're more compliant, they're, they're forced to watch porn, their souls have been just in so many ways manipulated and hurt that they need time to heal and recover mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

And that is what we put so many of our resources into doing. Some organizations do both, some focus on the rescue, some on the aftercare side. But we have to pass better legislation, we have to educate better, we have to empower law enforcement with tools to be able to recognize and take down trafficking. But in the state of Utah alone, we've done some of the largest human trafficking cases in the U.

S. When I first came in, we took down an MS 13 cartel leader who was a narco trafficker, but also a sex trafficker. He'd been in the state for almost 15 years. In a quiet suburb of Salt Lake City, running his global human trafficking ring and drug ring. And when we finally arrested him off of a lead that we got, the feds said, hey, congratulations, you'll never make a case.

We've arrested this guy like six or seven times. I can't remember how many. And I'm like, if you've arrested him, how does he get out? Well, we deport him, and he just comes back under a pseudonym or something else. And I'm like, that doesn't seem like a very effective system. They're like, yeah, well, you, you, good luck, because all the witnesses either die or disappear.

And I'm like, well, if they know that he's just gonna get deported and come back, of course no one's gonna testify. What if we did this? What if I prosecuted him, there was no deportation, and we just put him away forever? I guarantee you we'd get a life sentence. Maybe the death penalty against him in Utah.

And fortunately, the feds deferred to us, and they did not deport or remove. And we were able to prosecute him. Now, he ended up taking his own life in a county jail during the pendency of the trial. And, you know, for a lot of reasons I thought that was good. There was no wiggling out, no extradition, no tricks, no defense last minute.

But the victims were really distraught. They wanted to see him brought to justice. And so, we were able to keep the judge, a very, you know, wise judge. To hold hearings even after the perpetrator was deceased. And these now like 27-year-old, 28-year-old, some hardened gang bangers with tats and we're in tears because they were 11 years old or 15 when this man humiliated them, took away all of their childhood.

Forced them into beds of people for money and then and then forced them to mule his drugs Not just into high schools and junior high schools to elementary schools so if there's anybody who ever wants to debate me about their existence or reality of human trafficking or Thinks it's some fiction that anybody has created the right the You know the religious community not only are they flat ass wrong, Steve, they're doing such a great harm and disservice to those of us who are in the fight.

And they might know, again, they're very liberal and very conservative folks, and everything in between, who are in this fight. And they're putting their lives on the line, and they're sacrificing a lot to wake people up, to educate them. And to get resources to people who are trapped. These are our brothers and sisters.

They could be our kids, Steve. Anyone is potentially a victim. Not just their children or grandchildren, themselves. We have cases with men and women being human trafficked that we've done in Utah where we've had to pull them out and rescue them. And now if I'm starting to act pissed and getting a little bit exercised about that, it's because...

elites who can sit in an ivory tower in their comfortable world and pontificate about what may or may not be real. But don't put their own butts in the line of fire. It's really easy to discount stuff. But for those of us who've seen it, who've looked evil, truly in the eye, and you can ask my friends, it's bipartisan, Democrat AGs, Democrat governors.

I happen to be a Republican. They will tell you. It is so real. And having anything else taken away from you is one thing. Having your liberty and freedom stripped from you and being constantly treated like cattle and property, humiliated, forced into sell, body drugged by others, having all your free will taken away and feeling like there's no hope left.

And the statistics are grim. Once you're in that life, there are heavy odds you're never going to get out. And sometimes if you do, you go back because it's all you knew. So that's why we have to have programs that keep job training skills. And programs that don't re-victimize victims. Criminal justice, we've had so much reform for the positive.

So, we're starting to treat traffickers like the inhuman monsters that they are. And johns, for the perpetrators that they are. They used to get a slap on the wrist. They used to be ignored, and instead, we used to re-traumatize and re victimize the real victims, those being trafficked. Well, now, hopefully, they're being treated like the victims that they really are, and given the tools, and given the care, and given all of the resources that they deserve to have.

So, yeah, I'm a pretty chill dude. Even when I was fighting MMA, I mean, my coaches and everybody else were like, you're never going to make it to the top, because you... You're so happy, you smile too much. You don't really want to destroy anybody; you want to kill them. Maybe that's true. I was a good competitor, and I was skilled, but I don't want to destroy people except maybe human traffickers and a few others who prey on the innocence of children.

But, but people who, and I get that a lot of folks just don't understand it. So, I'm. I'm not saying your friends are the ones that are the object of my ire, but it is too easy for the media and social media to discount things that are all too real. That's part of what the traffickers want. They're part of that disinformation campaign.

They're very sophisticated. And so, if I sound like I'm frustrated, it's because I've seen people in law enforcement, I've seen people in the military lose their lives to protect these freedoms that we have. I've seen people sacrifice a whole lot to help pull people out of this hell. And not just one hell, it's like all seven rings of Dante's hell, Steve, combined.

It's the dark web. The things that they do on the dark web, you know of this because we've talked about it. If you think there's bad, horrible, horrific depravity.

of the dark web and what the real human trafficking and organ harvesting is going on. A lot of the time, my men and women are like, I tell them they're like, they're like the guys in Men in Black. You know, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith there. And Will asks him, his character at one point, why do we zap everybody to have their memories?

Wouldn't it be better if they knew there were aliens, like, all around us? And then Tommy Lee Jones said something I think kind of wise, No. I think that would cause too much chaos and concern. It's better that we know that they exist, and we deal with it so that they can go on doing what you do, Steve, inspiring people with your academics and your brilliance in innovation and building companies and building families and doing, building America and the world.

We'll take care of those things that go bump in the night, those monsters. And so, my guys you know, I, I've mandated mental health care and help for them because of the stuff that they have to, you know, imagine having to digest gigabytes of porn as one of my ICAC commanders has to put together a child porn case.

you know, and you have to look at that filth and that stuff and the CSAM. I say child porn, it's also child sexual abuse material or sexual exploitation CSAM material. so, the Sound of Freedom's real. It's probably the first, it's done by some amazing artists. Alejandro Monteverde are two brilliant artists.

They had award winning films like Bella and Little Boy. Look those up. For Canada, Milan and Toronto and Sundance. And so having their craftsmanship, their ability to tell a story. Layered on top of real stories. Is it a hundred percent real? Of course not. I mean, there's always some Hollywood. It's an amalgamation of different operations put together.

Not all of this happened exactly the way it's depicted. Are these kids the exact kids? No, they're there. But there are thousands of kids out there who represent millions if you're talking about the entire world. Who are the kids in Sound of Freedom? Represent the same pain that they endure the same suffering, but also the hope that someone is looking for them, that there are folks like you, Steve, and your listeners out there who can maybe put away misinformation, misunderstanding and say, hey, we want to help.

We want to lean in. What we can do is an academic environment. Why don't we teach human trafficking courses a little bit more? Why don't we talk about that? Because it's horrible, it's horrible, and I want to be clear. The transatlantic slave trade is one of the darkest moments in the history of the world.

And our country. There's nothing you can say to justify it, to apologize for it. I'm not. But by most scholarly accounts during that entire two or three hundred years, you had maybe twelve and a half, thirteen million people ripped away from their families, their lives destroyed, torn away from their culture and their people.

Again, Horrific. Today, and granted there are a lot more people on Earth, but today, even adjusting for that, I don't know how many exactly, but we're talking again about 40, 50 million people, some estimates say, some very credible organizations, World Health Organization, you know, and, and all sorts of other organizations that are looking at this, the UN and various different organizations, the Global Index Slavery, or Slavery Index, Man, it's stunning, Steve, to think that modern slavery can exist.

At that magnitude, at that scale, more people aren't just up in arms. Why aren't more people indignant about this? Our Asian countries are disproportionately affected by that. So many cases that I've done here have involved Chinese national women who are thrust away from their families or paid as a debt to pay off because there's no other way.

Um there, but you know, Southeastern Asian women from all, all over the place. I mean, I've, I've, we've dealt with cases with Filipina women, with Thai women, with Vietnamese women, with Cambodian Laotian women, Marshallese Island. I did a case of illegal adoption. It was a public elected official, Steve, in Arizona using his law degree and his elected status.

To trick Marshallese women into the United States to birth their children here, and then make up all kinds of reasons, excuses, threaten them, so that they couldn't take their children back to the Marshall Islands, send them back, and then sell them on the black market for adoption. I mean, that's happened.

And it affected like 27 states. So, it happens in our backyard. and, and, you know, if you see something, please say something. If you, if you're out there and you, something feels amiss, I would rather have you call local law enforcement. Now here's the problem, a lot of local law enforcement doesn't know how to deal with it.

Human trafficking is still such a new phenomenon by statute because there's been such an interest in it. Now everybody's scrambling to try to figure out how to investigate and prosecute. It's rare that you have one agency that has all the tools together, so you need coalitions and task forces.

In the state of Utah, we have a secure strike force. The legislature put it all into the AG's office. Thankfully we can marshal all of those assets and bring to bear all of that expertise and all of that power and harness all of that and, and hit nine counties at the same time and, and, and do big ops.

Are you kidding me? One agency, even the largest in the state, couldn't do that. So, it's really trying to educate law enforcement and lawmakers and, and, and, and people from the private sector, businesses, and CEOs, if they could lean in and make sure their supply chains were clean. And making sure that they weren't causing or encouraging human trafficking throughout their ecosystem would be huge.

you know, there's so many good causes, so many, but there's so few of those big voices. Someone like Ashton Kutcher, who's been a strong voice. There have been others, but I'm talking about the, you know, I want the titans of industry and innovation and everybody else adding this to their list of things that they're totally up in arms about.

That's my hope Steve. And I, I think Sound of Freedom's the first film that's really been approachable by a lot of different people. And, and it's, it's opening a lot of eyes. So that's good for awareness. And my hope is that as many people can watch it, we'll also encourage others here or abroad to educate themselves.

Steve Hsu: I really appreciate you going into those details and reassuring people that when they go and see the movie, it's not just a Hollywood vehicle, that it's capturing some reality of what people face in other parts of the world. So definitely I encourage people to go see it. I haven't seen it myself, but I wanted to ask you about it.

Sean Reyes: Yeah, there's some intense parts of it, Steve. There are many parts of that film that aren't even as wild and crazy or unbelievable as the things that have happened to us in real life on some of those operations. In terms of the danger and now again, there's some things that happened in that film that I've never been around, and I've never seen.

I've never had to kill somebody. On and off. I haven't been as close as some of the characters there are, you know, they're, they're, they're down in South American jungles with cartel members in the layer of the cartel. I've been in safer spots than that, but I, but those spots are safer than that, but really dangerous.

Still, like places you would not want to be. In very you know, with, with guns and other weapons right around you held to your head in certain circumstances situations that are, are, are really, again, suboptimal, and not ideal. And the film tried to carefully balance and depict the reality of the danger to those who are, you know, operating there.

But also, to the, to the kids and not try to make it look sensationalized. It doesn't need to be because reality is sensational enough. And so yeah, I hope it's a film that can continue a movement or even on its own, start a movement. What do I mean by that? Well, hopefully enough people will be indignant and.

And offended and made uncomfortable that, that they will act and that, that cumulative effect will, will be in and of itself a movement. But one of the things that these storytellers, these, my, you know, the directors of the film, my fellow producers have said, By the way, I don't make any money off of the film.

I don't, I don't have an interest in the film that way. I donated all of my time and my expertise because I believe so much in the vehicle. We didn't make any money. We've never been paid, never been compensated for going undercover in these different places or doing what we do. I jokingly said, I don't get paid that much even for doing the stuff I do in my own state.

It's A. G. But I still put in 80 to 100 hours A.G.O. Weeks, Steve. But on my own time, I used to coach all of my kids in sports. Maybe I do that less now. But it's really hard when there's a chance to go rescue men, women, and especially children who do not want to take the time and even take the risk to, to go and, and bring people their children back or give these children a chance at a real life back.

And so, I, I, again, I'm, I'm proud of the film. I think it, it, it will, you know, my, my, I was saying my co producers. Said, you know, Schindler's List, that movie was so powerful, the Spielberg film, but unfortunately it was made decades too late, right? And in essence, what if we could have a film of that impact while, you know, if it was during the Holocaust, man, it could have changed so many things that were, that were terrible.

Well, I'm not making any comparisons directly, but now we have another terrible situation with human trafficking. And if we can have a film that actually makes a difference while trafficking is at its zenith, and we can start to really undermine it and chip away. The cartels will not traffic or they'll traffic less if they're not making so much money off of it.

But it's easier and more lucrative to traffic in human beings because there aren't, there's not so much risk, right? There aren't agencies and task forces. Like there are on the drug side. Plus, as many say in the business, you can only sell a drug once. You can sell a little boy or girl or human being over and over and over again.

Hundreds of times, thousands of times. So, as a commodity, it's much more susceptible to monetization. And then while you're doing it, I mean you can be filming the sexual act and streaming it. For live child pornography and monetizing it that way then you can resell it afterwards While the person who's perpetrating the act is also paying you there's so many horrible streams of Monetization and social media is driving a lot of its social media in and of itself.

It's not good or bad Like any technology, but the predators are using it to reach out and to groom a lot of children. And if parents aren't, so everyone's like, what's the answer? Well, I don't have an easy answer. One of them is to know as a parent as much as possible where your children are on the internet, try to have controls, try to see, have a relationship where if they see stuff, they can say, man, this is, I don't, it makes me uncomfortable.

Steve Hsu: Look, I really appreciate your passion here and your, I think you've conveyed to my audience who, you know, don't often hear heavy stuff like this on my podcast. And again, like I think a lot of their natural reaction was in the corporate media that, you know, this whole thing is, you know, some Q and on conspiracy and the movies, you know, not realistic.

I think after listening to you. They're much more likely to say, hey, maybe I should take a look at this. If I can bear it, maybe I should go see this movie and try to understand what's actually happening in the world. So, I thank you for your time. And we were only going to go an hour, but now we're closing in on 90 minutes.

I want to just throw out one question for you before we end. What's next for you after your kids are grown up and in

Sean Reyes: Well, right now, I'd love to go back to my fund. And keep helping the innovation sector. I have a lot of friends who, who speak a lot on, you know, do a lot of public speaking circuits. I just did an event here in Utah with a lot of them. And, and I, I like to impact people with, you know, hopefully messages that are uplifting and that can help them be their best selves.

So, I can foresee that. I don't know. I will always stay connected to the political world. I think it's an important world and, and there's a lot of good to be done. I don't necessarily love to be in all of the soup. And I think I've been a good bridge bringing my public sector, excuse me, my private sector background into the public sector.

Now that I have a public sector background, I think I'll be even more able to bridge different divides. But I'll still continue to speak at Comic Cons. And UFC events and sport. I love all of those types of things and you know, doing rap concerts and, and we have some amazing ones that just left almost a neighbor of mine, he lives a number of blocks away, but we've got Austin post Malone right here in Utah.

I want people to realize that Utah has all of the components that needs to be a global crossroads of. culture and community, but also capital and commerce and the last C is coolness. So, we brought Jackie Chan out to Utah, and we brought Tony Robbins and superstars of there you know, arenas and their worlds.

Kanye West, I even set up a Saturday service for him. It's supposed to be a Sunday service, but man, the logistics were crazy. That was before Ye went to some of this current stuff, but still a genius when it comes to music. And I don't think people realize that about Utah. What I was proudest of was he brought a choir and a band out.

Altogether, between the two, there were probably a hundred members of the choir and band. And they said in all the cities, dozens, and dozens of cities nationwide, they had never been treated better. Then in Salt Lake City, Utah, by us and our team, and that's what I want people to feel. So, whether you're a, you know, golf fan, we got Tony Finau he's like, who's like a little cousin, just right down the street, who's helped put Utah on the map that way, sports wise.

A lot of NFL players and rappers, and you know, I'll, I'll, I'll keep like I said, I'll keep rapping. even when I'm, even when I'm out of office. I was before I DJ'd, I rapped growing up. I was MC Pineapple Crush. I knew a lot of the old school rap guys. We could go into all that. I used to play ball with them, we used to do shows with them.

And I'm talking about like the N. W. A. era. In fact, people don't even realize N. W. A. was a world class wrecking crew before Eric wrote easy payment and a lot of those cats play ball with us right at Shoe Park or we play back in L. A. but out in the valley, they went to schools like Taft High School or El Camino High School.

And so, we knew a lot of them. So, some of them know we're OG, now we're old time, but, um,

We were the young up and coming rappers and DJs and we did shows at the Reseda country club. But yeah, I, I, I want people to, I want the political world to be a little more accessible. So, whether you believe in my politics or not, say, Hey, we're, we're real people. I think the political world politicians are a little too staged.

And plastic and there's so many handlers and I get it. You know, you get punished so much if you misstate one thing or misspeak even one word. But I like being me and my whole philosophy's always been, hey, try to win the, but win the right way, but also win on your own terms. I would rather lose on my terms being me and how I am authentically than to win, trying to fake being somebody else.

And try to do it their way. I, I, you know, I had a great time, I followed my pops, I followed God, followed my mom's example, and they did it pretty well. And so, for me, man, having good friends like you, though, is important. And I appreciate it when I can, when I have like Einstein on Rolodex and I call you and pop you in it, it's awesome.

So, thanks, bro.

Steve Hsu: That is awesome. Let's leave it there.

Creators and Guests

Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.
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