South Carolina Brothel Busted for Sex Trafficking
A recent federal investigation led to a Columbia-area brothel being busted, and a potential victim of human sex trafficking being rescued, on Thursday, October 29th.
Homeland Security and US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement conducted a 13-state operation called “Operation Safe Haven,” targeting numerous illegal brothels across the Southeastern US that reportedly smuggled several Hispanic women across the country in a sex trafficking scheme. The Department of Homeland Security’s Joint Task Force was joined by US Customs and Border Protection, FEMA, and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies.
One of the reported brothels was housed here in Columbia, South Carolina. Federal agents secured one suspect and one potential victim of sex trafficking. A similar brothel bust occurred in Greenville, and the federal investigation uncovered additional brothels believed to be part of the sex trafficking ring in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.
The initial investigation began in Savannah, Georgia in July 2014. Special agents with Homeland Security identified an organization loosely affiliated to traffic Hispanic females, including underage girls, from Mexico and other Central American locations to several locations across the US.
“As previous investigations have shown, and ‘Operation Safe Haven’ again confirms, the sex trafficking of foreign women in the United States is done by loosely organized criminal networks who have little, if any regard for the women they victimize,” said Special Agent in Charge of HSI Atlanta Nick S. Annan. “This investigation identified women victimized through fraud, force and coercion, including underage teens. 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.”
Another brothel was discovered in Greenville, and the brothel’s owner was arrested and charged with federal criminal charges for sex trafficking. The suspect allegedly drove one underage girl across the border to work in her brothel; another victim was reportedly promised a waitressing job and was instead victimized into becoming a prostitute through fraud, coercion, and force.
“Human sex trafficking is a cancer that we must cut out, and then aggressively fight with all of our resources,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore. “Sometimes the trafficking victims are kidnapped and forced into sexual servitude through violence. Other times the victims are lured with the promise of a better life, and then held hostage by predators who literally financially imprison them or intimidate them with threats of harm or shame to them or their families. No matter the circumstances that brought these women into sexual servitude, they are victims. And whether the weapons used by the traffickers cause physical, mental or emotional harm, they are predators, and we will track them down no matter the cost.”
Currently, about 38 of the suspects allegedly involved in the sex trafficking scheme are still at large, with warrants for their arrest. It is unknown how deeply many of them were involved, or coerced into being involved.