Utah trucker accused of keeping sex slaves in big rig challenges his arrest in Minnesota

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SALT LAKE CITY — A defense lawyer on Wednesday challenged the arrest of a Utah truck driver accused of keeping women as sex slaves in his semi-trailer as he drove across the country.

Minnesota state troopers should not have taken Timothy Jay Vafeades into custody last year for violating a protective order because it was no longer valid, attorney Vanessa Ramos argued during a court hearing.

She said the protective order issued in 1999 only applied when the 19-year-old woman was a child, and its terms didn't call for an arrest.

Ramos cited the issue while asking a judge to toss unspecified evidence collected during the arrest.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer did not immediately rule on the motion.

State truck inspectors testified at the hearing that they became suspicious of Vafeades after seeing a woman with him keep her head down and avoid eye contact or conversation with them.

"He would never let her speak," inspector Cynthia Harms said. "I just had this feeling that something was not right."

After the inspection, Harms and her partner re-examined the results of a routine background check and found the protective order. They alerted nearby state troopers about the driver of the truck known as "Twilight Express."

Defense attorneys say the woman was looking down at her cellphone while Vafeades was answering questions by the inspectors.

"Have you raised teenagers? They get bored," said defense attorney Robert Hunt, noting that the woman did answer a direct question.

Prosecutors claim the woman told Minnesota authorities that Vafeades had kept her prisoner for months and forcibly altered her appearance.

An indictment says police found digital hard drives containing child pornography when they searched the truck after the arrest.

After the arrest was reported, an 18-year-woman alleged similar abuse from 2012.

Prosecutors have said in court documents that they plan to introduce evidence that Vafeades had four other victims over a 20-year period.

He has pleaded not guilty to six federal charges, including kidnapping and transporting for illegal sexual activity.

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