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A local police task force participated in a nationwide sweep over the weekend in which 105 children forced into prostitution were rescued — including one from Toledo — and 23 suspects from northwest Ohio were arrested.
The victims, almost all girls, range in age from 13 to 17, the FBI said on Monday.
The FBI office in Washington announced that 150 alleged pimps were arrested on state and federal charges nationwide, one of which was from northern Ohio. Additionally, 23 northwest Ohioans were arrested by the Northwest Ohio Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force, but no federal charges have been filed against them, said David Dustin, spokesman for the FBI's Toledo office.
“This is an ongoing investigation where no federal arrests or charges in federal court occurred in Toledo,” Mr. Dustin said. “Any charges ... were state charges [by our Toledo police task force partner].”
State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), who has fought for stricter penalties against sex traffickers in Ohio, said she believed 13 of those arrested here were alleged customers and six or seven were alleged sexual traffickers. Most of the arrests occurred in the city of Toledo, she said.
“I am grateful for the continued efforts to rescue victims from criminals who profit from these detestable crimes,” Ms. Fedor said in a statement. “It is imperative for lawmakers and law enforcement to remain committed to protecting Ohioans from the scourge of human trafficking.”
Officials did not release details about the victim who resides in Toledo, other than to confirm the victim was a teenager under 18.
Details of the charges against the 23 arrested locally were also unavailable; Mr. Dustin said Toledo police handled the state and local arrests. Toledo Police spokesman Lt. Mark King could not be reached for comment late Monday.
FBI officials were tight-lipped about the investigation.
“There’s some ongoing investigations which I really can’t get into. But typically with the identification and recovery of a child, oftentimes it may trigger the start of a case,” Mr. Dustin said. “And it may take awhile to actually develop that case to where someone's charged.”
Forty-seven FBI divisions participated in the child prostitution sweep, known as Operation Cross Country VII, that took place Thursday through Sunday morning. It was conducted under the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative. The largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver, and New Orleans. In Detroit and southeast Michigan, 10 juveniles were rescued.
The enforcement campaign included some 230 agencies, including Toledo police and other area agencies involved with the FBI Northwest Ohio Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The FBI said the national campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003. The northwest Ohio task force was formed in 2006 to address juvenile sex trafficking in the Toledo area and has recovered or identified more than 100 juvenile victims of prostitution.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau’s criminal investigative division, said.
The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have resulted in 10 life imprisonments and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
For the past decade, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division has attacked national human trafficking in partnership with the Department of Justice and the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem “an escalating threat against America’s children.”
The Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
Congress has introduced legislation that would require state law enforcement, foster care, and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.
This fall, Ms. Fedor said the Ohio Senate will hear House Bill 130, a bill to mirror the state penalties and provisions against johns off federal law. The bill, sponsored by Ms. Fedor, passed the House unanimously in June.
The bill gets rid of a two-tier system of prosecutions created in Ohio’s last human-trafficking law passed last year, which created differing penalties for sex-for-hire customers based on the age of the trafficked victim.
Instead, those who solicit a minor for sex would be prosecuted with a third-degree felony, carrying jail time of up to five years, instead of a misdemeanor. They would also have to register as sex offenders regardless of whether they knew the minors they hired for sex were under the age of 18 or were developmentally disabled.
“Ohio is more equipped to handle this now,” Ms. Fedor said. “It has laws in place and training for law enforcement and more people educated and aware of trafficking.”
Staff writer Sam Gans and The Blade’s news services contributed to this report.