Nationwide sting recovers more than 100 trafficked children, 9 in Denver


A nationwide sweep to search for children who were being commercially sexually exploited found 106 juvenile victims of sex trafficking nationwide, nine of whom were recovered by efforts coordinated by the Denver division of the FBI. The enforcement action, Operation Cross Country, combined the efforts of local law enforcement, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and 47 FBI divisions, including the Denver office with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force described in the Boulder Weekly story “Tracking down the trafficked,” published July 25.

FBI agents spent 72 hours over the weekend of July 27 on the nationwide effort, which took place in 76 cities and led to the arrests of 152 suspected pimps.

“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a press release from the FBI. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”

This was the seventh Operation Cross Country organized by the FBI’s 10-year-old Innocence Lost National Initiative. The initiative’s efforts have led to the recovery of 2,700 children.

The Denver FBI office has also reported that during the operation they arrested six alleged pimps and identified 11 pimps, cited/arrested 51 adults for prostitution, arrested 25 johns and arrested six adults for other crimes, including four felonies.

Local agencies involved included police departments in Aurora, Casper, Colorado Springs, Denver, Greenwood Village, Lakewood, Pueblo and Wheat Ridge; sheriff ’s offices in Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson and Pueblo counties; the FBI; Homeland Security Investigations; the United States Marshals; and Wyoming Division Criminal Investigation.

“Human trafficking is a multijurisdictional-type crime, so it requires a multijurisdictional effort against it,” Sgt. Dan Steele, a Denver Police officer who works on the FBI’s division of the Innocence Lost Task Force, told Boulder Weekly. “[Traffickers] go to all sorts of different jurisdictions, they go interstate, they go out of country even, so that requires not only having multiple agencies involved, and not as restrictive boundaries, but also having the federal government involved to have that reach where we need it.”

Task force operations often begin as local enforcement actions in truck stops, casinos, street ‘tracks’ and on dating or escort service websites, according to a press release from the FBI Denver office. Arrests for prostitution or solicitation can provide information on more organized, cross-state trafficking operations.

“There’s really no one way we find these trafficking victims,” Ricky Wright, the FBI coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Safe Streets task force, told Boulder Weekly. Wright has been with the FBI 16 years and has been working on the Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, specializing in violent crimes against children, for six years. His first work with child prostitution enforcement was on an Operation Cross Country roughly five years ago.

“A lot of times, once we think we have an idea, or any knowledge really that a girl out there might be involved in prostitution, we start looking for her, and since a lot of it’s online anymore we can try to find escort ads they might be posting,” Wright says.

An online search for Denver escorts could return dozens of such websites.

FBI agents and police partner with the U.S. Attorney’s offices and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to collect evidence to bring charges.

Because of the time between the initial arrest and the trial for an accused pimp or trafficker, the victims are not often available to testify.

“That’s where it’s nice to have this multijurisdictional task force where we have the time to work on proving the case beyond that reasonable doubt, even beyond having the victim,” Steele says. “That means going back through and taking every little piece of information that the child or the adult gave us and corroborating every little piece of information so that basically the amount of information is so overwhelming that it puts the prosecutors in a position of power.”