Human trafficking ring used girls as young as 12, Cook County prosecutors say

Chicago Tribune

 9 people charged in sex-ring case

By Antonio Olivo and Dahleen Glanton, Tribune reporters

Dozens of girls, some as young as 12, were forced into prostitution by a human trafficking ring that kept its victims in line with brutal means that included beatings, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Wednesday.The girls and dozens more adult women were recruited on CTA trains, the Internet or in random meetings on the street, Alvarez said. Many were either homeless or runaways, she said.  Following a yearlong, multiagency investigation dubbed “Little Girl Lost,” nine people have been charged in the case under provisions of a state anti-human-trafficking law passed last year.

“While it’s often perceived really as just an international issue and not a domestic issue, when we talk about human trafficking, the domestic sex trafficking of minors is something that occurs right here in our very own community,” Alvarez said. “It’s also something that, many times, is hidden in plain sight.”  For the first time in a human trafficking case, investigators were able to use court-ordered wiretaps to gather evidence, a provision of last year’s Illinois Safe Children’s Act.

On the wiretaps, investigators heard “dates” being arranged for the victims, the beating of a girl with a belt and death threats, officials said. For punishment, the ring’s victims were locked in the trunk of a car and driven around for long periods of time, Alvarez said. Others were branded with tattoos.

A 13-year-old who had been reported missing by her family after running away from home had been sold from one pimp to another for $100, according to an affidavit.  “It’s cases like this that are not easy for investigators, because it pulls at your heartstrings when young girls are exploited in such a fashion,” said Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

McCarthy said Chicago police officers first learned of the possibility of a trafficking ring involving minors during a routine prostitution bust more than a year ago.  The ring was allegedly run by a loose group of street gang members, several of whom had multiple felony convictions.

Nine alleged ring members were charged with “involuntary sexual servitude of a minor” and trafficking in persons for forced labor. Four appeared in Cook County court Wednesday and ordered held in lieu of bail as high as $1 million. The other five are scheduled to appear Thursday.

Alvarez said the investigation is ongoing.

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