In January of this year, the Department of Homeland Security released its strategy to combat human trafficking. It clearly states how the agency aims to support prosecution, dismantle criminal trafficking networks and treat victims like victims.
None of that happened when DHS came to Lake Havasu City.
The strategy was released online about a month after an investigation into an alleged sex trafficking network fell apart in Havasu due to what we assume to be incompetence on the part of the federal agency.
If you don't recall the details, that's understandable. It's been five months and Homeland Security clearly hopes the whole thing will just go away. Requests for information from the News-Herald have gone unanswered by the agency.
Basically, police departments in Havasu and Bullhead City discovered what they believed to be a human trafficking ring operating right under our noses. Local police officers worked with Homeland Security on the investigation, ultimately resulting in seven arrests and the release of a number of women said to be working more than 12 hours per day in unsanitary conditions as they were shuffled between massage parlors.
It was a great example of cooperation between local and federal law enforcement – until it wasn't.
About two years after the arrests, charges were abruptly dropped against the alleged ringleaders.
Why? Because federal investigators were suddenly unwilling to participate in the court case. They refused to support prosecution efforts.
The revelation of the alleged illicit massage parlors may have helped to scatter a local network – at least temporarily – as it freed the women caught up in its seedy business, so that's a silver lining. But it will be relatively easy for a larger criminal enterprise to put those pieces back together again.
So much for dismantling a trafficking network.
We're still not clear on why the case had such a spectacular disintegration, but we do know, based on unredacted reports obtained by the News-Herald, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who were involved in the undercover operations took things too far in the investigation. Agents identified in court documents only as “Sergio” and “Arturo” led the investigation by conducting multiple undercover operations in which they reportedly paid the women working at the massage parlors in exchange for sexual favors. They didn't treat victims like victims.
We learned last week that the two unidentified agents had been referred to ICE's Disciplinary and Adverse Action Panel for possible disciplinary actions. We still don't know who they are, or what kind of discipline they face.
In addition to those important details, the agency owes the public a thorough – and timely – explanation for squandering taxpayer money, wasting precious law enforcement time and breaching a sacred trust held with local communities.
— Today's News-Herald