An international human trafficking ring has been busted thanks in-part to efforts of investigators in Nebraska. Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning says undercover officers from various agencies put in hundreds of man hours working this case dubbed “Operation Extended Stay”.
Sheriff Dunning says, “It began in the Omaha area and what we were finding is people were using Backpage and another site called City Vibe to go to massage parlors or engage in escort services. As we began investigating this we saw there were off-shoots to this operation throughout several other cities in the United States.”
Along with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office and the Wichita Police Department used undercover officers working this case. They collected physical and electronic surveillance evidence, prepared subpoenas, search warrants and conducted data analysis regarding the communication and financial network backing the operation. The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service also assisted in the operation as well as members of the Creighton University Study on Human Trafficking team.
Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner says sporting events seemed to spark an increase in usage of the websites, “Like the College World Series, Nebraska football games, other events throughout Nebraska, where you have large tourist influx. It seems like those services, or those websites, get a lot more hits.”
The year-long operation ended on April 10th with federal and local law enforcement serving multiple search warrants in Omaha, Bakersfield and Los Angeles, California, Salt Lake City, Utah, Orlando, Florida, Lafayette, Louisiana, St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.
Fifteen Asian females were identified and arrested whose travel and client communication was well coordinated by different call centers in Florida and in California. Several other female “contractors” were also identified and addition criminal charges are expected for at least three of the men and women identified as “owners”.
The investigation also led to the identification of assets from illegal funds from prostitution. This included bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, jewelry, gold Bullion, investment portfolios, residences and vehicles. The estimated assets total between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000.
Jane Monnich, KLIN in Lincoln, contributed to this report.