- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2015

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday the Justice Department plans to expand a pilot anti-trafficking program that has successfully dismantled sex rings and cracked down on corrupt actors in various states across the nation.

The program, known as the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative, was set up in February 2011 by former Attorney General Eric Holder alongside then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

ACTeam program offices were initially launched in six cities: Atlanta, Georgia; El Paso, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles, California; Memphis, Tennessee; and Miami, Florida, Ms. Lynch said during a press conference in Washington.

Those offices have yielded “extraordinary” results in the Phase I cities, so now the Justice Department wants to see it grow to include up to six more cities, Ms. Lynch said.

“In the first two years, the number of prosecutions and convictions for human-trafficking crimes rose significantly across the country, but were dramatically more pronounced in the ACTeam pilot districts — where we more than doubled the numbers of cases filed and defendants charged,” she said. “In the two years before we convened the ACTeams, these six districts had filed a total of 16 human trafficking cases against 35 defendants. During the two years of Phase I, they filed 35 cases against 75 defendants. The ACTeams contributed significantly to our overall nationwide progress in bringing human traffickers to justice.”

During that time, the six pilot ACTeams were able to dismantle a 10-defendant, multi-district, sex- and labor-trafficking ring that exploited dozens of young women in El Paso, bring down a Miami-based sex-trafficking enterprise that stretched as far as Australia and secure over $700,000 in restitution for a victim of a Kansas City-based sex trafficking conspiracy, Ms. Lynch said.

Now, the Justice Department is ready to kick-start Phase II of the initiative, she said.

Interagency teams consisting of federal enforcement partners that represent a myriad of government agencies have until August 2015 to apply to be part of the expansion, according to a fact sheet provided by the Department of Justice.

Those ACTeams must be comprised of federal prosecutors and investigators representing multiple federal enforcement agencies. Each team should form a joint strategic action plan to develop high-impact federal investigations and prosecutions, vindicate the rights of human-trafficking victims, bring traffickers to justice and dismantle human-trafficking networks.

“The ACTeam Initiative has been an important tool in our collective ability to combat sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude here in the United States,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a Thursday statement on Phase II.

“This is not a problem that we can afford to ignore which is why, under a banner of shared responsibility and collaboration, the Departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security are recommitting ourselves to the fight against human trafficking by expanding the ACTeam Initiative,” he said.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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