(BCN) — A joint operation by law enforcement agencies led to the rescue of 18 victims from a Colombian-based sex trafficking ring that operated brothels at hotels in the South Bay, Santa Clara County prosecutors said.

Nine people suspected of working for the syndicate were also arrested in the operation, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Tuesday.

Officers seized over $200,000 in cash from the suspects and froze their assets, including cryptocurrency, prosecutors said.

Investigation into the sex trafficking ring began in March 2022 when authorities became suspicious of the activities of a Colombian couple who were previously charged with human trafficking-related crimes but were out on bail.

Through a wiretap, investigators looked into around 30,000 text messages and calls to a dispatch number. Evidence showed that the number was being used to arrange “dates” between sex workers and customers, said prosecutors, who added that the traffickers set up a bank of these dispatch phones for customers to schedule sex dates with victims at local hotels.

The sex trafficking victims came from South America and Mexico and were kept working seven days a week in hotel rooms in San Jose and East Bay Area cities. The District Attorney’s Office said the victims were prohibited from leaving the hotel rooms without permission, kept under constant surveillance, and threatened that if they disobeyed or tried to escape, their families would be harmed.

According to prosecutors, investigators learned through the wiretap that the syndicate was exploiting more than 30 victims. Six additional suspects also are yet to be caught.

The rescued women are being provided with services such as counseling, medical care and housing assistance, among others. One of the victims, a teenager from South America, was taken to the District Attorney’s Office’s Children’s Advocacy Center for care, prosecutors said.

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