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Vice investigators arrested 198 people and rescued 18 human trafficking victims — including 12 minors — during a three-day operation targeting sex exploitation in Los Angeles County, authorities said Thursday.
The sweep, dubbed Operation Reclaim, ran from Jan. 21 to Jan. 23, in unspecified areas of Los Angeles County. Authorities said they discovered gambling, a home that was used for prostitution and several women and minors who were involved in the sex trade.
Of the 198 arrests, 115 people were booked in connection with soliciting prostitution, said Officer Liliana Preciado, spokeswoman of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Six women and 12 minors, mostly African American, were identified as trafficking victims and had been used for sexual slavery, LAPD Det. Lina Teague said. They were placed in protective custody and offered social services assistance.
“That’s what this is all about — these minors,” she said. “We are helping them reclaim and rebuild their lives.”
The women were found soliciting prostitution on the streets throughout Los Angeles County, Teague said.
The sweep involved personnel from the LAPD’s Human Trafficking Unit, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force.
“When you have this activity, you’ll have prostitution associated with it,” Teague said.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In 2015, 949 human trafficking cases were reported in California, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. More than 3,800 victims were discovered in human trafficking in the state since 2007.
Authorities in Los Angeles on Thursday morning announced that 198 people had been arrested on charges connected to sex trafficking.
The operation led to the rescue of six adult victims and 12 minors “who had been trafficked for the purposes of sexual slavery,” authorities said.
Carried out between January 18 and 23, the operation was organized by the Los Angeles Police Department’s human trafficking unit with assistance from the local sheriff’s department, the Human Trafficking Task Force and the FBI.
Among those arrested were six people thought to be pimps. Their identities were not immediately made available by the police department. The majority of the others arrested face charges of soliciting prostitution, a public information officer told Newsweek. Other charges include keeping a house of prostitution, supervising prostitution and drug possession.They arrested six pimps and found gambling at some of the locations targeted during the raid.
The children who were rescued are in protective custody and all of those rescued are receiving victim services. These victims were not trafficked across the border and all appeared to be local, authorities added.
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SAN DIEGO — The district attorneys of San Diego and Riverside counties joined a state senator Monday to urge passage of bills to treat human trafficking crimes committed by gang members with the same severity as other gang offenses, and to streamline prosecution of human trafficking.
The measures — both authored by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego — are subject to a final vote by the state Legislature this week.
Senate Bill 473 would add human trafficking to the list of 33 crimes that define a criminal street gang under the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act. The anti-gang laws include strict penalties, but the statute has not been updated to include gang involvement in human trafficking, according to Block.
Inclusion would add enhanced penalties, affect probation and parole conditions, augment law enforcement tools and affect the way cases are handled by all stakeholders in the system.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said SB 473 “takes direct aim at gang members who would victimize young women in communities across the state of California by adding human trafficking as offenses that can be used to establish a pattern of criminal gang activity.”
“In short, it will help prosecutors build our cases against gang members, who, until now, have been slipping though a loophole in the law,” she said.
Senate Bill 939 would streamline prosecutions and reduce court costs and the trauma experienced by victim witnesses who testify in human trafficking cases that cross multiple jurisdictions. The measure would permit the consolidation of serial human trafficking, pimping and pandering charges into a single trial if all the involved jurisdictions agree.
Victims of such crimes are frequently taken to multiple cities and counties for labor and commercial sex exploitation. Prosecution involves trials in each of the multiple cities and counties where the crimes occurred, with victims testifying in each of the trials.
Current law already allows for the consolidation of other serial sexual offenses occurring in multiple jurisdictions.
“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in California, and SB 939 will be a tremendous asset to prosecutors statewide and make it easier and more efficient to prosecute these types of cases,” said Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach. “At the same time, the bill will also provide human trafficking victims more protections under the law.”
Block said human trafficking is highly lucrative and stemming the crimes will involve the use of multiple tools on multiple fronts.
“Gangs and other perpetrators are using victims as their ATM machines,” Block said. “In San Diego, the human sex trafficking trade brings in $97 million in revenue, more money than drug trafficking, according to a new Urban Institute study. We need to fight this on all fronts.”
Fox 5 News POSTED 3:44 PM, AUGUST 11, 2014, BY SANDRA PHILLIPS
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San Diego, CA — Two men have been arrested on suspicion of serving as pimps and other charges in connection with an internet-based commercial sex enterprise in San Diego, authorities said Tuesday.
The arrests of San Diego residents Dale Vinzant, 68, and Christian Koalani, 66, were the result of a year-long investigation by the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, San Diego police Capt. Brian Ahearn said in a news release.
The pair are accused of being involved in a “criminal organization that enabled persons engaged in prostitution acts and their customers to negotiate the exchange of sex for money at the click of a button and under the cloak of a fee-based, members only website,” Ahearn said.
The online prostitution ring is believed to be the first of its kind ever uncovered in San Diego, according to police.
“This is groundbreaking,” Ahearn told reporters during an afternoon briefing.
Vinzant allegedly owned and operated a website called San Diego Adult Service Provider, which police described as an “internet-based meeting place where people engaged in the illicit sex trade and their customers could link up, negotiate a sex transaction, and, once the act took place, allowed the sex purchasers to write and post a review.”
This website enabled Koalani, the owner of American Escort Company, to post, advertise and ultimately profit from the sex acts provided by the young women he recruited and directed, according to Ahearn.
It was unclear how many might have been victimized, though investigators believe some 50,000 people — both clients and victims — had used the website over a period of years, Ahearn said.
Koalani, a Pacific Beach resident, is the author of “Story of An American Escort,” a novel based on his experiences in the underground sex trade, according to police. When he met Vinzant about 10 years ago, Koalani was running a pimping scheme via his Facebook page and proposed moving it to the latter man’s website for their mutual benefit, the captain alleged.
The suspects set up the illicit business under a veil of secrecy in an attempt “to wall off law enforcement,” only allowing potential customers access following a thorough vetting process, Ahearn alleged.
“It was very covert,” he said. “Not a lot of people knew about it — only those, really, who were members.”
Once on the website, however, clients and the women they were seeking to hire often were frank in their negotiations, according to Ahearn, who said investigators “saw language that was very specific, language that was very graphic.”
Authorities were alerted to the prostitution operation by a woman in her 20s who provided information about it after being contacted by police on an unrelated matter, Ahearn said. He declined to disclose details on the nature of her connection to San Diego Adult Service Provider.
The website has been shut down, with anyone trying to access it now directed to another one that provides information about human trafficking- related crimes and how to recognize and report them.
Police believe the online prostitution service boasted about 900 members at the time of the suspects’ arrests two weeks ago on suspicion of pimping, pandering, conspiracy, solicitation of prostitution and money laundering, Ahearn said.
To access the illegal services, members paid fees of roughly $15 a month or $100 per year, according to police.
With insight gained from the unique case, local authorities “will be actively involved in pursuing other similar types of business models that might be doing similar things,” Ahearn said.
“Both Vinzant and Koalani … lured vulnerable women into engaging in acts of prostitution with offers of drugs and money in exchange for their offering themselves to clients as part of a large-scale sex for money enterprise,” Ahearn said.
The San Diego Police Department secured the necessary arrest and search warrants in the case through the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the California State Department of Justice, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI.
The service of the warrants resulted not only in the arrests of both men but also the collection of evidence such as computers, other electronic media and assets tied to the business, according to Ahearn.
Koalani was arrested June 2 at his Pacific Beach residence and booked into jail on suspicion of pimping, pandering and conspiracy charges. His bail was set at $500,000.
Vinzant was arrested June 3 in the Mission Bay area. He was booked into jail on suspicion of pimping, pandering, solicitation of prostitution and money laundering charges. His bail was set at $150,000.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office agreed with the arrest charges against both men, and has filed the charges, according to Ahearn.
Koalani was due in court Tuesday for a readiness conference and again Thursday for a preliminary hearing.
Vinzant’s next court dates are a readiness conference on July 22 and a preliminary hearing on Aug. 11.
The San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force was formed in January 2015 to “disrupt and dismantle human trafficking and child exploitation organizations through a comprehensive, collaborative and regional law enforcement and prosecution response,” according to Ahearn.
***Updated at 4:25 p.m. Pacific Time; Originally posted at 12:31 p.m. Pacific Time, June 14; 2016***
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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