Twenty-two alleged gang members and associates have been charged in a federal grand jury indictment related to a cross-country sex trafficking conspiracy victimizing underage girls who were recruited from East County schools.
“Operation Stolen Souls” was a two-year human trafficking investigation in which the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Authorities identified approximately 100 girls and young women – as young as 12 years old, up to the mid-twenties – who were manipulated with promises of a lavish lifestyle or threatened with violence.
On December 11, 2014, detectives and agents from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI, along with other agencies, made 15 arrests and served 11 search warrants in San Diego and Hemet, California; Tucson, Arizona, and Austin, Texas.
The DA’s Office assisted with several parts of the operation, including emergency witness relocations, providing shelter for human trafficking victims who were rescued, as well as on the detection, surveillance and arrest of the defendants.
According to the federal indictment, the defendants are allegedly associated with a relatively new gang formed in 2008 called “Tycoons,” which operated a nationwide prostitution enterprise primarily from its base in Lemon grove and Spring Valley.
“Human trafficking and drug dealing are major revenue streams for gangs,” said DA Bonnie Dumanis. “These gang members systematically preyed on young women from local schools, luring them with promises, and forcing them into prostitution.”
According to the U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, the investigation began as a result of information provided by members of the East County community who saw troubling signs and reported them.
“They did not look the other way,” Duffy said. “They saw signs of trouble, and they reported it. As a result, girls and young women exploited in this case have been extended a path from misery to safety, and we have started on a path to end this criminal enterprise.”
Authorities encourage the community and parents to keep a watchful eye on their children and to report any suspicions of human trafficking or sexual exploitation.
To report or get help regarding human trafficking call the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at 1-866-347-2423 or San Diego County Sheriff’s Department at 858-565-5200.