Federal authorities arrested 29 people in 13 cities across eight states on sex trafficking charges, as part of a sweeping southern states operation called “Safe Haven,” according to US officials.
The undercover operation involved a loosely affiliated operation that coordinated the movement of Latino females throughout the southeast of the US, according to authorities. The traffickers within the operation were independent operators who coordinated the delivery of women for sexual purposes.
“Human sex trafficking is a cancer that we must cut out, and then aggressively fight with all of our resources,” US Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Michael Moore said in a released statement.
— Captain Alist-ARGH! (@AlistairReign) October 30, 2015
Moore said some trafficking victims are “kidnapped and forced in sexual servitude through violence,” while others “are lured with the promise of a better life, and then held hostage by predators who literally financially imprison.”
“No matter the circumstances that brought these women in sexual servitude, they are victims,” Moore added.
Investigators said 15 people believed to be victims were rescued during raids on brothels and homes in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. The indictment described a network to recruit young women, including underage teens, to work as prostitutes because men are willing to pay more to have sex with them.
One underage girl was enticed from her home in Mexico by a trafficker who convinced her to run away with him, promising her a better life, the indictment says. Instead, he trained her as a prostitute and sent her with delivery drivers to various cities, where she sometimes performed 25 sex acts a day during the week and 30 sex acts a day on weekends, the indictment says, according to ABC News.
The girl turned 18 in May 2011, and from 2006 until January of 2013 she worked as a prostitute in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and elsewhere.
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The indictment, filed in federal court in Macon, charged 38 people with sex-trafficking crimes, 29 of whom were arrested on Thursday in eight southern states. Six people were charged with conspiracy to participate in the sex trafficking of a minor, and 38 people were charged with conspiracy to transport a person in interstate commerce for prostitution. Nine suspects remain at large.
People charged with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor could face life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Suspects charged with conspiracy to transport a person in interstate commerce for prostitution could face up to five years and a $250,000 fine.
“Safe Haven” began in July 2014 in the rural southern Georgia town of Moultrie and was led by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents (ICE). The joint task force of personnel from ICE and Homeland Security Investigations involved 38 separate missions, and used covert aerial surveillance to track suspects and identify multiple locations.
“To the criminals behind these illegal enterprises, these women are just pieces of meat used to pull a quick profit and then discarded or passed on to the next trafficker down the line,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick Annan, who heads ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division in Atlanta.