Rescue of Three Human Trafficking Victims

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“Saved in America” says it all.”

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by JW August, Communications Director for the BSCC

It’s a charity, a nonprofit, created to “save” victims or would-be victims from the clutches of sex traffickers in America. 

That’s the claim. Based in San Diego, “Saved”  travels the country raising money for its effort. 

   Its founder, Pastor Joseph Travers, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from generous San Diegans.   He has a fundraiser planned  this weekend at a restaurant located at 5487 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.  

Travers has arranged for a local news website to publicize his NEWEST effort to raise big dollars for a transitional safe home for children.  Travers seems to be implying there are no safe havens for children.

“San Diego Needs an Emergency Transitional Safe Home For Children”  

Read full article here:

Recently, Travers used his appearance on KUSI-TV to promote SAVED IN AMERICA and another fundraiser at a Donald Trump Rally along Harbor Drive. 

On display in a parking lot was the 35-foot-long luxury recreational vehicle the County of San Diego gave Traver’s SAVED IN AMERICA to help fight sex trafficking. 

Travers says he has law enforcement skills and recruits other former law enforcement and retired Navy Seals to be part of the rescue efforts.  The pastor convinced former Supervisor Kristin Gaspar and other county officials to pay for the ‘undercover’ RV with its $10,000 paint job and name splashed along the side.   With Gaspar’s support, Travers was in line to run a San Diego County facility for trafficking victims similar to his current appeal for cash for a residential home.  But his early effort was thwarted by the county’s administrative office, which pulled back on the deal but has never explained why.   

It was during this time frame the two stories appeared on NBC7 regarding the pastor and Saved in America:

Full disclosure, I’m the communications director at BSCC and was the producer of the two stories about Travers while I worked at NBC7.  Travers’ recent efforts to raise more funds came to my attention and I felt it warranted an update.

When the NBC7 story first ran, a private investigator, Chris Reynolds, was interviewed because of his extensive knowledge of Travers’ history.  He was sued by Travers, claiming defamation.  But that lawsuit has been dropped, The attorney who filed it on behalf of Travers has not responded to follow-up questions, nor has Travers. 

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Chula Vista house was part of a countrywide begging scheme   

Members of the Imperial Valley Ministries in El Centro were involved in a five-year-long, forced-labor scheme  where many of the victims were homeless, some as young as 17. Dozens of victims were enticed with the promise of food and shelter, as revealed in recent federal indictments against ministry leaders and members. 

Imperial Valley Ministries (IVM) has 30 affiliated churches throughout the United States. As noted in the indictment, one ministry branch was located in the 500 block of Jefferson Avenue in Chula Vista. 

Jose Gaytan and Sonia Murillo were home directors at the Chula Vista ministry residence.  Both also were involved with running the El Centro residence the church used. The two defendants admitted they knew it was illegal to threaten the victims; warning them if they didn’t panhandle “on behalf of IVM they would suffer serious psychological, financial, or reputational harm.”  Other members of the ministry are awaiting trial.

It was revealed in court documents that church members imprisoned the victims when they weren’t working as panhandlers on the streets. The IVM homes were locked by deadbolts and only IVM church members could unlock them

An expert on begging and forced-labor activities, Marisa Ugarte, Executive Director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, was tracking the work of the federal task force, which she says broke the back of the cruel scheme.

Ugarte says the ministry members “locked windows, they locked doors. You are restraining people from leaving so they can’t escape. This is part of human trafficking. It’s a violation of human rights.”

The victims were told if they didn’t beg, they had no place to sleep nor food to eat. Part of the scheme involved taking EBT food stamp cards from the homeless men and women and selling them to make money for the ministry. Their identification papers and personal belongings were also taken from them.  

Some victims were denied medical treatment, the indictment alleged, including a diabetic who was refused her medicine and food but managed to escape and contact the authorities  

All the alleged victims have been identified and support services have been made available for them.

This is not a new form of trafficking. There are numerous ways innocents have been victimized for years by labor trafficking says Ugarte. “Other organizations like the one in Chula Vista also use begging; panhandling on street corners or shopping centers” to raise money by employing “force, fraud, or coercion.”  These are similar characteristics as used in sex trafficking, she notes.

Ugarte  points out more than 21 million people are victims of forced labor across the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), based in Geneva, Switzerland.   Anne Hoiberg, President of the BSCC board, notes that Ugarte has been involved in fighting all forms of trafficking for years. In her efforts, “she has been a visionary, warning of the dangers well before they became a widely known crime.” Hoiberg continued, “Marisa never gives up, speaking out while rescuing victims and providing shelter.”

Front of Imperial Valley Ministries Church
— credit–(Google Maps)
El Centro residence the church used.
— credit–(Google Maps)

Aerial view of back of residence the church used in Chula Vista, CA
— credit–(Google Maps)

Below you will find two court documents of Gaytan and Murillo pleading guilty of their charges.

JW August, Communications Director for the BSCC

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Saved in America Exposed

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A  news story posting on a local television station website features Pastor Joseph Travers of Saved in America.  He has received a lot of positive news coverage for his “rescue” efforts all across the United States. This recent NBC7 story contradicts much of what the pastor claims.

Please consider the NBC report before you give money to Saved in America.

Full disclosure: the  NBC7 story was produced by BSCC Communications Director JW August.  

It is one news story that the Pastor will not be posting on his own website.

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STOLEN: A Year-long Investigation Into Child Sex Trafficking & Exploitation

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On August 20, 2020, NBC San Diego debuts “STOLEN,” an expansive documentary series about the sex trafficking and exploitation of children in San Diego County.

Told from the perspective of survivors, victims, pimps and customers, STOLEN dives into the dark underworld of San Diego County’s sex trafficking industry while chronicling the strength of survivors and their families as they struggle to break the chains and scars left from sex trafficking.

The seven-episode documentary series is the product of a year-long investigation that includes exclusive interviews and, for the first time ever, substantial proof of the scope of the problem in San Diego County schools.

Throughout the ground-breaking documentary, survivors share their personal stories and reveal the risk factors and warning signs every parent should know.Watch the full series on August 20, 2020.#notinourbackyard

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