Saturday, December 17, 2005

Federal authorities yesterday arrested 19 persons and charged more than 30 others in one of the largest actions ever taken against child prostitution rings in the United States, the Justice Department said.

The arrests are part of an ongoing Justice investigation known as “Innocence Lost,” which targets those involved in the recruitment of children for prostitution.

“Our society has no place for those who prey on children and no tolerance for child prostitution or sex trafficking,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “The Justice Department and our partners in the law-enforcement community are committed to stopping this terrible practice and protecting our children.

“Through successful initiatives like Innocence Lost, we will continue to pursue … sex traffickers, child prostitution rings and the despicable individuals who stand behind them,” he said.

As a result of the operation, more than 30 child victims were identified, bringing the overall total of children known to have been exploited by the prostitution rings to more than 200 since the Innocence Lost initiative began in 2003. Items seized in the latest sweep included residential properties, vehicles, cash, electronics, jewelry and child pornography images.

On Thursday and yesterday, department officials said, indictments and criminal complaints were unsealed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan and Hawaii, charging 31 persons with various offenses including the transportation of minors to engage in prostitution, attempting to coerce and entice minors to engage in prostitution, sex trafficking in children, kidnapping, witness tampering, and possession and distribution of child pornography.

Twelve of the 31 persons charged remain at large.

“The FBI and its partners cannot restore the innocence lost from those children who are lured into childhood prostitution,” said FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker. “These children are victimized twice; first by the handler who exploits them and secondly by the individual who solicits them.

“To combat these heinous crimes, we have channeled our resources through nationwide task forces to identify and disrupt criminal enterprises and predators engaged in the recruitment, exploitation and transportation of juveniles for the purpose of prostitution,” he said.

In the spring of 2003, the Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section at FBI headquarters, in partnership with the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the Justice Department and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), began the nationwide investigation.

To date, the Innocence Lost Initiative has resulted in 139 open investigations, 505 arrests, 60 complaints, 70 indictments and 67 convictions.

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