WASHINGTON, Nov 9 – Twenty-nine people were facing charges related to trafficking Somali and American girls for sex, US officials announced.
Authorities were in the process of arresting the defendants in Minnesota and Tennessee for allegedly sending girls, some younger than 13, from the Minneapolis area to Nashville, Tennessee for sex between 2000 and 2010. Authorities also said one 18-year-old was sexually assaulted.
"Trafficking children for sex is intolerable and the Department of Justice will aggressively enforce trafficking and other laws to eliminate these types of deplorable acts," said US Attorney Jerry Martin.
"As shown here today, law enforcement agencies at every level will come together to bring the full force of justice to bear on individuals who choose to profit by victimizing innocent children."
The defendants are all alleged to be associated with interconnected Somali-American gangs: the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws.
The sex trafficking offenses carry a penalty of not less than 15 years to life in prison.
The defendants are also charged with obstructing the investigation, lying to a federal grand jury, stealing a car and making 231,000 dollars in false credit card charges over one year.
"Human traffickers abuse innocent people, undermine our public safety, and often use their illicit proceeds to fund sophisticated criminal organizations," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.
"ICE is committed to bringing these criminals to justice and rescuing their victims from a life in the shadows. We will continue to fight the battle to end human trafficking both here in the United States and around the globe."
US officials have rescued 69 child prostitutes following a massive three-day operation spanning dozens of US cities, federal law enforcement authorities said Monday.
In a 72-hour time span, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), working along state and local police, also arrested 885 people including nearly 100 alleged pimps, the US Justice Department said in a statement.
"Child prostitution continues to be a significant problem in our country, as evidenced by the number of children rescued through the continued efforts of our crimes against children task forces," said Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI\’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch.
"There is no work more important than protecting America\’s children and freeing them from the cycle of victimization," Henry said.
The nationwide operation, dubbed the Innocence Lost National Initiative, was carried out in 40 cities across the United States, targeting such places truck stops, casinos and websites, among other venues, in a bid to combat child prostitution.
Over the years, the Innocence Lost task force has reclaimed some 1,200 children from the streets, US officials said, and led to some 625 criminal convictions with lengthy prison sentences.
"This is 21st century slavery," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in a statement to the press.
"We are proud to be a part of this extraordinary partnership to rescue children, save lives, and bring the pimps and operators to justice."