Local police working on a weeklong operation to break up human trafficking have helped liberate four teenage girls, three from Toledo and another from Michigan.
“They were involved in sex trafficking,” said Toledo police Detective Pete Swartz, a member of the Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation Task Force. “We did various operations — truck-stop operations, hotel, motel stings, street stings, as well as reverse-John stings. We interviewed several of the at-risk minors where we learned that they were being trafficked.”
Officials did not provide information about the girls, but did say that one is 15, two are 16, and one is 17 years old.
Law enforcement worked with the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition and Lucas County Children Services. In March, a 15-year-old girl was recovered and in April a 16-year-old girl was recovered.
The operation, which ran from June 15 through June 20, was part of a nationwide annual FBI effort, Operation Cross Country, which focuses on human trafficking and other sex-related crimes.
Locally, in addition to the girls, five pimps, 35 prostitutes, 10 customers, and three other individuals were arrested. A total of 61 charges were filed and assets worth $21,371 were seized, police said.
In the rest of northern Ohio, 12 more juveniles were recovered and seven pimps were arrested on state and federal charges.
Authorities did not provide the names of the alleged pimps.
Detective Swartz said this year’s operation was “one of the most successful.” Of the women who were arrested on solicitation charges, 30 agreed to prevention services.
“The impact goal is to try to get them off the streets, offer them services, and get them out of the life of prostitution,” Detective Swartz said.
Of the women arrested in Toledo, at least 19 were charged with soliciting for allegedly offering to perform various sex acts on undercover detectives. Many women were found on streets in the city’s north end and east side, and some were contacted first via ads on www.backpage.com an online escort site, according to various court records.
Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo professor of social work who specializes in human trafficing, said sweeps such as these are aimed at rescuing trafficked minors and setting them on the path of restoring their lives. She called recent changes in Ohio law that toughen penalties for traffickers and customers while emphasizing that teenagers who are trafficked are victims a step forward.
“Within the whole paradigm there are a lot of shifts that have to happen, but we are slowly moving in the right direction,” she said.
Police and federal agents in the Toledo area have been asked to train authorities in other cities in dealing with human trafficking victims.
“We have law enforcement officers who now say ‘these people are victims,’ ” Ms. Williamson said. “That’s a huge shift. It’s just a slow process, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Two Toledoans, a man and woman, were charged in unrelated cases with promoting prostitution for allegedly driving women to designated locations where they offered sex to undercover detectives.
A married couple, who police say operate a North Toledo brothel, Hidden Treasures, 5070½ Telegraph Rd., were charged with one count each of procuring and promoting prostitution. Mary Gregory, 30, and David Gregory, 63, both of 1515 Freeman Ave., appeared in Toledo Municipal Court today for arraignment and were released on their own recognizance.
After several undercover visits to Hidden Treasures, as far back as June, 2012, members of the Toledo Police Department’s vice unit executed a search warrant there at 11 p.m. Friday, according to court records. The raid was not officially part of the FBI operation, Detective Swartz said.
During each of the four undercover visits, women performed either topless or nude dances for the detectives and then offered to perform various sex acts for money. Police said that, during each visit, detectives were under surveillance by other detectives.
From Hidden Treasures, detectives took used and unused condoms, drugs and drug paraphernalia, cash, surveillance system, paperwork, and a ledger documenting employees’ work, according to court records.