(BCN) — Nine people were arrested, and 18 victims were recovered during a law enforcement operation targeting a Colombian-based sex trafficking operation operating in the South Bay.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that Operation Phoenix resulted in charges ranging from human trafficking, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, pimping, pandering, and money laundering.
Suspects “face major prison time, if convicted. The investigation is ongoing and other subjects may be charged with additional crimes,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
Six additional suspects remain at large, the DA’s office said.
The operation relied on incriminating text messages and involved legal wiretapping by the Law Enforcement Investigating Human Trafficking (LEIHT) Taskforce – a DA’s office- led task effort in Santa Clara County and co-led with the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “It is one of the largest HT operations in the state and the first wiretap-based HT case in Santa Clara County’s history,” the office said, in a statement.
The probe began in March 2022 when investigators became suspicious at the activity of a Colombian husband and wife who were previously charged with human trafficking-related crimes and were out on bail. Investigators focused on approximately 30,000 text messages and calls to a single prostitution dispatch number.
Evidence showed the number was being used to arrange “dates” between exploited sex workers and customers.
Members of the task force learned the traffickers set up a bank of these dispatch phones for sex customers to schedule sex dates with victims at local hotels.
Sex trafficking victims were recruited 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 victims were not allowed to leave the hotel rooms without permission, kept under constant surveillance, and were threatened with having their families harmed if they disobeyed or tried to escape.
Traffickers used the laundered proceeds to further a lavish lifestyle, the DA’s office said. During the investigation, officers seized more than $200,000 in cash and froze assets including cryptocurrency.
While law enforcement personnel have recovered 18 survivors, the wiretap revealed more than 30 victims.
The women are being provided specialized services including counseling, immediate and long-term medical care, housing assistance, and services related to economic sustainability from our Office and community-based organizations.
One of the victims, a teenager from a South American country, was located on Thursday during the takedown of the operation. She was taken to the DA’s children’s advocacy center for care.
Agencies taking part in the operation included LEIHT, HSI (San Jose, Riverside, Miami, and Fresno offices), DA’s Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS San Francisco Field Office), FBI (Sacramento and San Francisco Divisions), Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, Santa Clara County Regional Auto Theft Task Force, Santa Clara Police Department, San Jose Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (San Francisco Field Office), Sacramento Police Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Alameda County Narcotics Task Force, Hayward Police Department, Gilroy Police Department, Sacramento Police Department, the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team, and the California Department of Justice (Special Operations Unit).
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