LOS ANGELES – A Long Beach woman pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to working with her son to prostitute a local runaway beginning when the girl was only 15, and another young woman beginning when she was 18.
Sharilyn Kae Anderson, 46, pleaded guilty to conspiring with her son to engage in sex trafficking, following a joint probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD). In a plea agreement filed in U.S. District court, Anderson admitted she and her son used force, threats of force or coercion against the adult victim. Anderson now faces a potential penalty of life in federal prison.
Anderson’s guilty plea comes nine days after her son, Joshua Jerome Davis, 23, pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking conspiracy, as well as two substantive counts of sex trafficking of a minor and an adult by force, threats of force or coercion. The charge of sex trafficking of a child by force carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years. The sex trafficking of an adult by force, threats of force, or coercion, or any combination of these means, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years.
Anderson was arrested in August 2013 by LBPD vice detectives and HSI special agents. Davis was arrested outside a residence he leased in North Las Vegas. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
Following his arrest, Davis was transferred to Los Angeles to face criminal prosecution. At the time of his arrest, investigators located and rescued the minor victim who was with Anderson.
The LBPD initially opened the investigation after the minor victim’s father reported her missing. The ensuing investigation uncovered evidence that Davis, assisted by his mother, had prostituted the victim at several hotels in Southern California and transported her across state lines to Nevada to engage in commercial sex in Las Vegas.
“Human sex trafficking will not be tolerated in our city, especially when our children are victimized,” said Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. “We have made tremendous progress with our efforts to combat these horrific crimes. We will continue to work collaboratively with our partners to successfully investigate and prosecute those responsible.”
According to court documents, Davis first communicated with the minor victim on Facebook in 2010, when she was 14, leading to an initial meeting in early 2012. Several months later, the minor victim created an account on a website commonly used to promote prostitution and escort services. Anderson helped facilitate the prostitution scheme by booking hotel rooms and transporting both victims to hotels to engage in prostitution when her son was unavailable. Anderson also threatened the adult victim to intimidate her to continue making money for her son by prostituting.
“The coercion of vulnerable minors into prostitution is unconscionable,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “HSI will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners to bring those engaged in the sexual exploitation of juveniles to justice.”
Anderson and Davis both pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder. Anderson’s sentencing is scheduled for May 18. Davis will be sentenced May 4.
Victims of human trafficking, or individuals who have knowledge of trafficking activity, may also contact the Long Beach Police Department’s Vice Investigations Detail at 562-570-7219. To remain anonymous, the public may visit www.lacrimestoppers.org.
As the New England Patriots were celebrating their thrilling Super Bowl XLIX win Sunday night, law enforcement around the nation were observing a more somber victory.
At least 570 would-be sex buyers (or johns) and 23 so-called sex traffickers — men taken into custody on charges of pimping, trafficking or promoting prostitution — were taken off the streets in the “National Day Of Johns Arrests” effort, Illinois’ Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced Monday.
The nationwide sex-trafficking sting operation, led by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, ran from Jan. 15 to Feb. 1.
“Sex trafficking continues to destroy countless lives, and this broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that their ‘hobby’ is much more than a ‘victimless’ crime,” Dart said in a statement. “It‟s particularly meaningful that this sting culminated on the day of the Super Bowl, which unfortunately has emerged as a prominent haven for sex trafficking.”
“We’re trying to raise awareness best we can,” Cook County Sheriff spokesman Ben Breit told The Huffington Post, explaining that the timing of the sting is largely symbolic. “Tying it to the Super Bowl is a helpful way to accomplish that.”
Dart’s office started the first such operation in 2011. The 2015 installment is the largest yet, comprising roughly 70 jurisdictions in 17 states, including Nevada, Arizona and Massachusetts.
On Monday, the Cook County Sheriff’s office said 54 women and 14 juveniles nationwide were “rescued” (taken into custody but connected with mental health, drug abuse, domestic abuse and other services).
Other highlights of the operation included Phoenix police recovering several women who said they had been trafficked in for the Super Bowl. Cincinnati police also arrested a pair of sex traffickers who had been using public computers at a local library to post prostitution ads online, according to a release. Las Vegas Police, meanwhile, took a man into custody who was facing federal human trafficking charges in Ohio; they also arrested a john on probation for rape.
The majority of the busts were made through “dates” arranged on the classified ad site, Backpage.com (and to a lesser extent, Craigslist). Dart said Backpage.com has for years been known as the leading online marketplace for prostitution, bringing in millions of dollars a month. Backpage’s exact revenue is unknown, but in 2013, classifieds analyst company AIM Group estimated Backpage’s take was $4.2 million in a single month.
Backpage.com general counsel Liz McDougall told The Huffington Post via email:
We stand firm in our belief that a domestic website that combats child sex trafficking domestically in collaboration with law enforcement is far more beneficial to victims than driving the problem to underground and offshore sites. And we remain committed to effective measures of prevention and successful prosecution of this heinous crime.
Dart acknowledges his anti-trafficking and prostitution efforts have their critics — primarily people who think law enforcement are merely criminalizing a transaction that should have long ago been legalized. But whether the crime is called sex trafficking, pimping or prostitution, Dart says he sees “no distinction.”
“That’s always been a tough one for me,” Dart told The Huffington Post. “How is it any different when a man who gives a woman food or shelter, or coerces her with drugs or abuse, than when someone is brought in from outside the country.'”
And while Dart concedes there are some women who engage in sex work of their own choosing and without the involvement of a pimp, he says such instances are rare — and still unsafe.
He says the next step is to continue expanding the operation to include more law enforcement agencies in more states.
“Its all about building awareness, about staying on the problem,” Dart said. “There’s no silver bullet for this.”
This story has been updated to include comment from Backpage.com.
Human trafficking and child prostitution are happening in our own backyard. But for the first time in San Diego’s history, a brand new team has been created with a dedicated group of crime fighters trying to stop it. NBC 7’s Steven Luke has the details. (Published Tuesday, Jan 20, 2015)
Officials in San Diego announced the first country-wide task force to fight human trafficking and assist victims Tuesday.
At a news conference at the Hall of Justice, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Domanis introduced The San Diego Violent Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, a task force that will partner with 14 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The task force will have more than two dozen investigators dedicated solely to making sure suspects are prosecuted to the fullest extent and to help the victims.
“It’s time our entire community wake up on this particular issue and help law enforcement by recognizing the signs of human trafficking and reporting it,” said Dumanis.
While many of the agencies have been working to fight the increase in human trafficking on their own, the task force will unite them and dedicate officers specifically to tackling the issue.
“In many cases these law enforcement officers were going after the sex trafficking and sex trade on their own time,” said San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
The city has been identified in the past by the FBI as one of several human trafficking hubs in California and the nation.
Dumanis said the task force needs the public’s help to report possible cases.
“And if you think it isn’t happening in our neighborhoods in San Diego County, think again,” Dumanis said.
In addition to the district attorney’s office, the San Diego County Supervisor, San Diego County Sheriff, San Diego Police Chief, FBI officials, ICE Homeland Security Investigations officials, ICE/Enforcement & Removal Operations officials, La Mesa police, California Highway Patrol Border officials and officials from the California Department of Justice will participate in the task force.
The growing connection between gangs and sex trafficking in San Diego is being studied by two local university professors who are researching the issue with a $470,000 federal grant.
The National Institute of Justice funded the study, “Measuring the Extent and Nature of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in the San Diego/Tijuana Border Region.”
Earlier this year, San Diego was singled out in a report by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute that discussed the association between gangs and sex trafficking. The report looked at the underground sex economy in eight major U.S. cities and said San Diego had uncovered the most amount of gang involvement in the world of underground commercial sex.
The local study is being conducted by Jamie Gates, a professor of cultural anthropology at Point Loma Nazarene University, and Ami Carpenter, a professor with the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego.
One and a half years into the two-year study, Gates said they have interviewed more than 100 gang members and will have focus groups at 20 high schools by the time they are finished. They also have worked with a dozen social services agencies and have collected data from law enforcement agencies across the county.
“We’re trying to learn if there’s a discrepancy between arrest records and what’s going on in the street,” he said. “And we’re listening to the perspective of gang members themselves.”
Gates said they are not ready to make a public statement about their findings yet, but did confirm that a wide range of gangs have been associated with sex trafficking.
The researchers have worked with Sweetwater Union High School District, San Diego Unified, the County Office of Education and schools in north San Diego County, he said.
Once published, the report can be used to shape policy, help school districts understand what to look for and provide information to help law enforcement conduct investigations, Gates said.
Indictments didn’t surprise some East County residents
By Gary Warth3 p.m.Dec. 27, 2014Updated11:49 a.m.Dec. 29, 2014
Many East County residents were alarmed, but not necessarily shocked, earlier this month by the arrest of 22 alleged gang members charged with coercing local schoolgirls into the sex trade.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me,” said Christina Hicks, president of the Kempton Elementary School PTA. “Not in Spring Valley. Nothing really surprises me anymore.”
Hicks, who has teenage sons at Steele Canyon High and Parkway Middle School, said she’s not very worried about her own children, but is concerned for other families with parents who are not as involved. She also is disappointed that the arrests were not followed by community meetings and forums on how to deal with a growing problem of gangs and sex trafficking.
The once-rural Spring Valley is where metropolitan San Diego starts giving way to the region’s back country. Urban concerns there have been festering for years yet some residents say they don’t have the resources to deal with them.
“I think we get forgotten about a lot, and I think this is why things like this happen,” Hicks said about Spring Valley. “We’re not a top priority. I think that if we were La Mesa, La Jolla or North Park, things would look very different.”
Hicks said Spring Valley residents must start working together as a community to protect their children. The growing association between gangs and sex trafficking, however, is hardly unique to East County.
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Mary Ellen Barrett said gang members accounted for more than half of the 68 defendants charged with sex trafficking since January 2013,
“I actually think that it’s higher,” she said about gang activity in sex trafficking. “The police will tell you 90 percent.”
Where to get help
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center provides help, referrals and general information for anyone who is or suspects someone who is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave. The center’s 24-hour hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Calls are anonymous and confidential.
In the first major case tying gangs to pimping in the county, 29 Oceanside gang members were indicted on federal human-trafficking chargers in 2011.
Last January, 24 alleged gang members in North Park were indicted on sex-trafficking charges that involved bringing underage girls to other states.
Those cases, like the most recently indictments in East County, were prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO.
“It’s high-reward, low-risk,” Barrett said about why gangs have entered the sex-trade field. “It’s all about the money. If you have an amount of meth, you’re done after you sell it. If you have a young girl, you can sell her six times a night.”
“It’s mind-boggling that it’s happening here,” she said. “We’re America’s finest city. It’s beautiful. But there are a number of factors that promote it as a high-prostitution area.”
In the East County arrests, 19 men and three women were indicted and named members of a hybrid gang known as the Tycoons. According to the indictment, the gang sent young women and girls across state lines to Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada.
About 100 victims, some as young as 12, were identified during the two-year investigation.
The arrests came with the help of Grossmont Union High School District personnel who have been trained to look for signs of girls being exploited since at least 2009, the year San Diego County was identified by the FBI as a top location for trafficking.
Jenee Littrell, an assistant principal at the district’s continuation school Chaparall High, has become a nationally recognized figure in the fight against sex trafficking in schools and helped create a booklet on the subject.
“It’s to be proactive, and it’s for schools that may not understand this phenomenon,” she said about the booklet, which was created with a $25,000 U.S. Department of Education grant and is scheduled for release next month.
Littrell said she couldn’t give details about the district’s role in helping law enforcement in the recent arrests, but a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office credited school officials and other community members with assisting in the investigation.
“They did not look the other way,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “They saw signs of trouble, and they reported it. ”
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said the investigation began with work from parents and school resource officers. Joe Garcia, interim special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said the arrests were a reminder that community awareness is crucial in identifying victims and exposing perpetrators.
Meeting on gangs
The first joint meeting between the Gang Intervention and Prevention Commission and the San Diego Human Relations Commission is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at Cherokee Point Elementary School, 3735 38th St., San Diego.
What to look for
Littrell said she interviewed educators in districts across the nation to compile a list of what people should look for to recognize sex trafficking victims.
“The warning signs are pretty common,” she said. “Truancy. Bruising. Tattoos (of money signs or gang names). Multiple cell phones. Certain languages.”
The booklet, “Human Trafficking in America’s Schools,” gives more details: An inability to attend school on a regular basis. Sudden possession of expensive items. Frequently running away from home. Frequent travel to other cities. Lack of control over a personal schedule.
Littrell said that as an educator she would not have associated those signs with sex trafficking without advice from law enforcement officials. She stressed that schools must create partnerships outside campuses to work in collaboration in solving the problem.
“It’s not a school issue,” she said. “It’s a community issue.”