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O.U.R. Rescue Operations

O.U.R. 2016 Mid-Year Review: An Intimate Talk With Tim Ballard

O.U.R. 2016 Mid-Year Review: An Intimate Talk With Tim Ballard

The following are excerpts from a filmed interview with Tim Ballard on the progress Operation Underground Railroad has made in the first half of 2016.

Tim Ballard:

We have made huge strides this year. The thing I’m most impressed with is that half way through the year we’ve already seen as many or more rescues and arrests as we did last year. We’re probably close to double in terms of the countries we’re working in and the partners that we have.

We have been highly requested here in the States to work in several jurisdictions. We’ve met with several law enforcement officials in various states and set a goal that we would see at least one hundred pedophiles arrested in one year’s time. And just a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of summer we hit that goal. We surpassed it in fact, with over a hundred pedophiles.

These are people that were seeking for children on line as young as nine years old. And we were able to provide the tools to pull these guys out, and inevitably be able to find the children who were actually being abused. So we’re very proud of that accomplishment.

CET-COE:

One of the great accomplishments this year was the announcement of our CET-COE, Child Exploitation Targeting Center of Excellence which is housed at the University of North Carolina, in Charlotte.

We’re actually set up right now to be doing the very unique and different types of operations that we haven’t see a whole lot of yet, using a lot of high-tech strategies to go in and find children who need rescuing and get these horrible, perverted people off the streets.

Technology:

The technology we’re developing is for everybody. In fact, sometimes it’s geared towards law enforcement overseas who just have such limited resources and they don’t have a lot of man power so we can make up for that through tools that allow one cop to do the work of five. And it doesn’t cost them anything.

One reason that we created Operation Underground Railroad is because we saw this need. These law enforcement officers with great hearts, with a desire to help and make their country better, but they had no resources.

O.U.R. Short Term Goals:

We have quite a few operations set for the rest of the year. We’ve already hit our goals, so we’re going to keep pushing, and may exceed expectations. There are multiple countries who have asked us to come in. We’ve already started setting up shop there so we’ll be seeing more operations from now to the end of the year in various places throughout the world.

We’re not meeting our demands though. It’s very difficult for us to sit back and say, ‘Where do we go?’ because we could go almost anywhere now. This is why we need to grow financially. We need more people to become abolitionists because we are not even meeting the demands of law enforcement around the world who need these tools; who need our support.

O.U.R Long Term Goals:

We’ve always talked about setting up offices overseas and we’re starting to do that. These offices are like targeting centers; they’re labs. We are focused on the high technology side to attack this problem. And you’re going to see a lot of more permanent offices in the next several years, offices in various countries that are sponsored in part or fully by Operation Underground Railroad. These offices will be high tech in nature, in terms of the tools that we’re offering, and integrating because with these tools, one police officer can do the work of five officers.

We need to be a force multiplier in this problem. There are way too many kids out there relative to how many police there are looking for them. We built our tools with that in mind. ‘How can we maximize whatever resources are already out there? How can we maximize that?’ Become a force multiplier because with five times the cop power, we rescue five times the kids.

Partnerships:

Our partnerships are mostly focused on the rehabilitation end of things. It’s so important; in fact, it’s the most important thing that we do. We have to have in place something for the rescued children because so often the parents are not suitable or there are no parents or they are part of the problem.

We’ve really recognized that we need to put more into the rehab side and that’s a really delicate thing. We go into these countries that are very developing and we don’t always find the rehab partners that we want, so we have to spend a lot of time building them up.

One country that we are in right now, took us a year to get operational, even though the law enforcement officers in that country were green-lighting the operations. Now, we’re about to do our fourth operation in that particular country because that part (aftercare) is in place.

We hired a new director of rehab, Jessica Mass, who just does an amazing job. She’s partnered with rehab places, facilities, shelters, here in every state in the United States and in every country that we’ve been in, over 15 countries. She has gone and spent a tremendous amount of time finding our partners who we know, that when we have these children, we’re comfortable placing them there.

It’s so rewarding to watch some of these survivors become thrivers. We go back all the time, multiple times a year. ‘How are they doing? What do they need?’ This one wants to be a chef; this one wants to go to college. We can help with that. And we’re watching these stories unfold now. That’s a new development, an exciting development for us.

In 2016, I’d say one of our biggest highlights is the expansion and growth of our aftercare program and the wonderful partners that we’ve been able to make and trust, and watch the kids go there and know they have a chance.

Recruiting:

First and foremost our jump team members have to be brave. I mean, we’re asking them to do very dangerous things. Go into a foreign county. Go in undercover. Walk into a trafficker’s house who would just as soon kill them if they knew who they were.

We seek out law enforcement officers who have experience in rescuing children in anti-trafficking enforcement. It’s so important that these people have the utmost integrity; that they have good hearts. One thing we do, and frankly it’s on purpose, is when we do these tryouts and the training, we ask them to pay for part of that expense of coming over here. And that’s because we want to see who really cares.

I know that every guy that I recruited, especially in the beginning, had to walk away from pensions. They had to walk away from government security. And the fact that they were willing to do that told me that that’s who I want on my team. If you don’t have the heart for this, you’re not going to last long. It’s great to see these people who are willing to fly themselves here and sacrifice financially just to have the chance to make the team.

The Jump Team:

I think very few people are willing to do what our operators do. I mean you sacrifice your innocence in ways that are so incredibly uncomfortable and painful that it’s very rare to find someone to do this.

These kids are in hell. We’ve seen things that you can’t even imagine happen in hell. And the only way to get to those kids is to go in there. You’ve got to be willing go in there and not flinch while you’re there. Anyone willing to do that is just so amazing to me.

It’s like someone willing to run into a burning building. That’s what these guys do every day. It’s a different kind of burning building but it’s no less precarious, no less dreadful and they do it. And I’m so proud to associate with some of these operators that we have working for us – amazing guys – and girls.

Rescues:

It’s imperative to us that our policies on rescue operations are very clear to our partners and donors. We are not a vigilante group. We work with and under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies that officially and formally bring us on board. If that doesn’t happen, we don’t operate. But, once we are official we move forward.

Every operation is so different. Our operators will go, usually pretending to be like the other tourists, looking for illicit contact with kids. And then they infiltrate it, and this is where their expertise comes into play in that region; they’ll go in and know how to talk and what to say; how to dig in.

Other times it’s very specific; as specific as, here is this child who’s missing. We can come in with our technology, teach them. We’ve had cases where we look at facial recognition technology that allows us to go in and identify this child that was taken and maybe being sold in a different continent. So it really does vary.

A lot of what we’re doing now though, is targeting pedophiles and traffickers using tools that allow us to exploit places on the Internet where kids are being sold. The dark net is a place where people work with impunity because they think no one’s watching. We’re trying to build tools to help law enforcement to get to those places quicker and more efficiently and understand that world so they can pull these kids out.

Case Story:

In one case, this individual had this child that was being exploited. It was quite a distance from our office and we were expecting to go do the operation the following week. But our operators who are experts on line, were able to identify that this was a problem that couldn’t even wait three days.

And because we have such awesome donors and awesome supporters, they were made aware of the emergency without giving them details. One of our donors said, ‘You need to get somewhere to save kids? Just get to the airport. My plane will be waiting for you.’

I literally left the my kid’s basketball game that I was coaching with nothing, jumped in my car and sped to the airport, got on that plane and had that guy arrested and those kids saved, and those kids placed in safety within 12 to 15 hours. That was an emotional case just because we knew we had to get there fast. But, this is where we have the kind of comparative advantage where we can just go.

The whole flight over I have her image in my head. Five years old and we were able to get to her and pull her out of that situation and that guy’s in jail right now.

The Danger For Children

It’s usually men, perverted men have access to children in various ways; sometimes their own children or a niece or a nephew. They take advantage of the situation where the parents are out of the picture for some reason and they take this child under their wing, so-to-speak, but really they’re grooming them and exploiting them.

They go on line and start selling, sometimes they want to exchange this child for someone else’s child and they want to set up these horrific dark escapades. All I can say is that we have the tools and the ability to have law enforcement intervene in those deals. To find out where they’re happening and when they’re happening, intervene, intercept the deal, and then infiltrate and dismantle.

Eradicating Child Sex Trafficking:

That’s still the goal. We know that it can work. It works on a small scale. We go into one city, do several operations, and we shut it down. At the end of our operations, we can’t find anyone who’s willing to sell kids, all of them citing the previous operations that we previously conducted.

If it works on a small scale, why can’t it work on a large sale? We just need more people, more organizations, and more governments on board. If we made the response to selling kids for sex so powerful, you could literally scare people from thinking about doing it. That’s our goal.

I do believe that we can eradicate this. It’s going to take a long time, but with enough support and enough growth, we are building the tools that can eradicate this.

What You Can Do:

We need your help to make a difference. If you haven’t donated to our cause, please visit our web site at OURrescue.org and start today. Every dollar helps rescue children and ensures they receive the recovery care they need. If you already donate, please take the opportunity to evaluate if you can give more. We’ve already completed more rescues to date in 2016 than we did in all of 2015. We need your support to continue at this pace and fund additional rescue operations. We can’t do it without you. Thank you!

Interviewed and Edited by: Cheryl L. Karr

Operation Fortuna: A Series Of (Un)fortunate Events

Operation Fortuna: A Series Of (Un)fortunate Events

 

 

The Caribbean –

5 Minors Rescued – 1 Trafficker Arrested

 

It was obvious right from the very beginning that the suspected trafficker was greedy, ambitious, and inexperienced. And it was ultimately, what led to her downfall and the rescue of five girls between the ages of 14 and 17.

Operation Underground Railroad had initially come to this lush Caribbean country at the invitation of the American Embassy and the country’s government authorities. They were establishing a working relationship with the national police in order to conduct undercover operations and rescue children from sex trafficking as O.U.R. does wherever it goes.

An advance team from O.U.R. had come to scout out the resort areas of the island and gather intelligence. Three suspected traffickers were identified, each with his own cadre of young girls to offer the western tourists. “These traffickers readily give up personal information: real names, cell phone numbers, pictures of the girls, and where they live, because they don’t suspect anything. We’re not locals,” the team leader said.

Three traffickers translates into three different trafficking networks, each with his own group of business associates, girls and clients. Of greatest concern was that some of these girls were not only for sale for the evening; they were “for sale” for sale as in, “You give me $10,000 and you take the girl forever.”

Plan Disrupted

This was more than enough to have the government support a rescue operation. A date was set with the national police and O.U.R. started mobilizing the rescue team. Unfortunately, the O.U.R. team returned to the country only to discover that not all of the preliminary work had been completed. “They had not done the lead work ahead of time. They had not gotten the court orders, they hadn’t gotten the judicial orders, they hadn’t gotten judge approval for us to actually move forward,” said the team leader.

Operation Underground Railroad is not a vigilante group and will not move forward without everything in place. “We do everything we can to lay the groundwork ahead of time and to prepare, but when we get down there we’re in their hands, ultimately, we’re in the hands of the foreign government,” the team leader explained. In this case, the foreign government told them to return in two weeks and they would have all the paperwork completed and be ready for the rescue and arrests.

New Plans

It was Friday. O.U.R. had been expecting more team members to arrive the next day to help with the rescue. Now everything had changed and the rescue team was put on hold. Stuck with no way to leave the island until Sunday, the team leader asked the host government, “Can we at least meet with the traffickers to talk about maybe giving them some money, seeing the pictures, seeing the actual girls, and can we introduce one of your undercover operatives as our taxi driver or as our middleman, something where when we leave, the traffickers will trust that this trusted local is with us?” That way the traffickers can continue to deal directly with the local, thinking he is just some fixer/middleman/gofer, when really he’s a federal police officer. The national police gave the green light and the plan was set for the next day.

A Fourth Suspected Trafficker

Then plans took a sharp turn – again. A fourth suspected trafficker, a female, reached out to one of O.U.R.’s undercover operatives. “Because of human nature and greed and rumors, the word started spreading around this town on this Caribbean island that there were Americans looking for a good time,” said the team leader. The woman said she could provide five young girls – one of them a virgin.

O.U.R. took this information to the government, hoping to add her to the other three suspected traffickers that they anticipated arresting in two weeks. Unfortunately, with the limited resources of the government they told them, “We aren’t able to add her now. We think we’re at a maximum with the number of kids that we are planning on saving from the three networks. We think that’s going to be the limit of what we can take.”

There is nothing more disheartening than knowing kids are being trafficked and not being able to do anything about it. The national police did, however, agree to let O.U.R.’s undercover team set up a meeting with her and verify that she did, in fact, have children to sell.

The Meeting

It’s Saturday morning. The meeting is set for noon at a local restaurant. O.U.R. flies in the head negotiator. He wants to meet in a less public place but the potential trafficker assures him she will come by herself and then, “I’ll take you back to my house where we can meet with the kids.”

“Matt” plays the role of the rich guy from the U.S. “My security was there, my undercover operatives. They have been on the island working as the middlemen. So I fly in from the U.S. I have not been seen on the island. I am a new face. And I brought a couple guys as my bodyguards.”

 

Making The Deal
The Meeting

“So we show up to the restaurant and our undercover operatives go in to find the woman. Meanwhile, I stay in the car with my bodyguards. Well, then my undercover operative comes back five minutes later and says, ‘the suspected trafficker is in the restaurant and she brought the girls with her.’” At this point a decision needs to be made. Leave and avoid a public scene or go meet with her and see where it leads. Matt chooses the latter.

“We go in and sure enough, there are very young girls seated around a table, five of them – very scared girls. I think, ‘this is the real deal here, this is true.’ So we sit down and we immediately buy the girls some lemonade, some orange juice, some water and tell them to open up the menu and they can have whatever they want. “

“The woman begins to explain to us where she had gotten these girls. She said she was from a poor, poor town outside of this tourist area about 15-20 miles away, very uneducated. She tricked the parents of these five girls saying that she was just going to take them into town to buy some food, look around, take them to a movie maybe.”

“She’s explaining this to us and then we start talking about the prices and she says, ‘Well, each of these girls is very young.’ She gave us the ages: 14, 15, 16, and 17. And she said that the youngest one, the 14-year-old, was a virgin, and she was more expensive. She would be $500. But, the other girls were not virgins but had only been in this, so to speak, for just a month or two, so they’re almost virgins and they were going to be about $300 each.”

It’s Complicated

Everything was going just as expected for an undercover sting. The only problem was the government had not given them permission to move forward. There is no police backup. There is no one to make an arrest. There is no one to take care of the girls. Matt had gone in looking for information and got a whole lot more than he’d bargained for. Now what?

Matt describes the scene. “I’m focused on her. My bodyguards are around talking to the girls. At one point I then take a half turn and just survey the environment, make sure everything is good and I notice that our presence is drawing a lot of attention. That it looks really, really bad. That you have essentially five, six big, white guys, Americans, talking with young women, young girls from this country, ethnically, local girls.”

“People were starting to whisper and look, including a couple who I see take out their cell phones and begin taking pictures. So I immediately said, ‘You know what—this isn’t good, we need to get out of here.’ So I whipped out a stack of local currency, put it on the table and said, ‘Ladies, eat whatever you want. Finish your drinks.” I told the waitress, “This covers the bill.” Then I took out some money and gave it to the trafficker so I could hook her greed, and then I said, ‘Thank you so much, we’ll be in touch.’ And we got out of there right away.”

Operation Underground Railroad trains its operatives to “always go with your gut sense.” In Matt’s case, it just didn’t feel right. He could sense that things were getting out of control and that they needed to get out of there right away and they did. It was the right decision.

They later learned from their connections with one of the other traffickers, who may have had ties with the local police, that within 10 minutes after they left, the local police came into the restaurant, arrested the woman and took the kids in for questioning. Since O.U.R. was working with the national police, the local police would not have known they were working undercover. Had they been arrested as well, they would have had to blow their cover in order to get out of jail.

As it played out, this incident strengthened their undercover relationship with the other potential traffickers. All the operatives maintained their cover as western sex tourists and they managed to have the suspected woman trafficker arrested and the five girls rescued. Actually, the arrest and rescue can be largely attributed to the concerned people in the restaurant who were brave enough to get involved and call the police.

If everything had gone according to plan, this never would have happened, because the national police had determined they would not arrest this trafficker due to limited resources.

However, things got very tense for the O.U.R. jump team. Following the arrest, the local police began looking for Matt and his bodyguards. “This was probably the most scared I’ve been on any of our operations thus far,” Matt said. “We monitored the situation and figured out we were safe staying at our hotel. We kept the federal police officer with us at all times, just in case anything happened.”

The Aftermath

As scheduled, Sunday morning O.U.R.’s jump team got on the plane headed for home. Following Saturday’s incident, Matt had arranged for O.U.R.’s aftercare partner to take care of the five girls that had been taken in for questioning. They were later returned to their parents who were, indeed, unaware that their children were being trafficked. Though traumatized, the girls, as well as their parents, are now a little wiser about the world and the evil that goes on in it and can take additional precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The woman was interrogated and taken to jail for a minimum of one year pending her trial. A number of witnesses at the restaurant heard what was going on and can testify so she won’t be doing this again.

As far as the three suspected trafficking networks are concerned that were identified earlier, they are being watched and will be taken down at a later date. No one will escape. And the children will be rescued and receive the care they need. It is only the beginning on the Caribbean island and Operation Underground Railroad will be right there to ensure more children are not exploited.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

Standing Shoulder To Shoulder In Cambodia

Standing Shoulder To Shoulder In Cambodia

By Caleb Larkin

In Asia alone, there are approximately 13.5 million human sex trafficking victims according to the U.S. State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report” (July 2015, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/245365.pdf). The U.S. State Department also estimates about two-thirds of all human trafficking victims worldwide reside in Asia. One organization located at the heart of the issue in Cambodia is working to change those numbers and save lives.

“One girl is too many. One day is too long.” is a motto that Agape International Missions (AIM – http://agapewebsite.org/) lives by. Operation Underground Railroad established a recent partnership with AIM to provide resources, such as funding and training. In 2016 alone, AIM and O.U.R.’s joint efforts have already led to five rescue operations with 22 victims rescued and seven traffickers arrested.

AIM, which has been fighting sex trafficking since 2005, has rescued 539 victims and estimates it has had an immediate impact on over 10,000 people by rescuing, restoring and reintegrating victims, as well as, directly preventing sex slavery in Cambodia.

Ashleigh Allard has been the Development Coordinator at AIM since October 2015. “I don’t think I understood the gravity of the issue before working with AIM. It’s hard to calculate the number of children who are being trafficked for sex,” she said. “We’ve rescued girls as young as four years old. Hearing that would break anyone’s heart.”

“Operation Bullhorn” was the most recent mission where O.U.R. provided training and funding for AIM’s rescue. On March 29th, AIM’s rescue team freed six minors and three adults in a massage parlor front for human trafficking. Phnom Penh’s Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Services arrested one trafficker in the raid on the parlor in the Kendall province in Cambodia. After a two-week undercover operation, AIM uncovered evidence that indicated the parlor manager was selling the children for sex. AIM has since relocated the six minors to a rehabilitation center to assist in the recovery process.

Allard explained the partnership with O.U.R. provides AIM with resources and support to enhance their ability to conduct recovery operations in Cambodia. “The rescue side of what AIM does aligns with O.U.R.’s mission,” she said. “O.U.R. helps provide the funds for raids.” This partnership is vital to O.U.R. in expediting our ability to connect with the existing law enforcement, aftercare, and community to enhance their role in eradicating sex trafficking locally.

The goal of O.U.R. is not to liberate every child ourselves, but to empower those agencies already doing great work. O.U.R. is able to enhance their tools and resources so they can have a larger impact and rescue more children while arresting and prosecuting traffickers.  O.U.R. consistently works with law enforcement so that the traffickers can be arrested through proper legal channels.

AIM’s goal focuses on four main areas: prevention, rescue, restoration, and reintegration. The organization has set up 12 different programs all focusing on some aspect of their goal. AIM owns and operates two transitional homes. These homes focus on victims 18 and older to find employment, receive counseling and “get back on a good trajectory for a successful life.”

In addition to their transitional homes, AIM owns three employment centers to help victims reintegrate and promote prevention of human trafficking through sustainable jobs. “One of these employment centers employs members of the community known for generational sex trafficking. Providing sustainable jobs breaks the cycle of exploitation,” Allard said. AIM also owns a retail store, Made, to help fund their efforts, an emergency family care center, an elementary school, and a gym called The Lord’s Gym, which focuses on kickboxing, allowing men to come in and train. Allard explained this key to help in prevention; to get men and others involved in a different cause, one that appeals to them such as kickboxing.

The Lord’s Gym is a preventative measure to help keep those who may be susceptible to evils of sex trafficking, on the right track and away from desperate and terrible mistakes. AIM feels it’s vital to get involved with the community before sex trafficking seeps into an individual’s life in order to complete eradicate sex trafficking.

“Brandon”, the director of regional operations with O.U.R., works closely with AIM’s operations in Cambodia. Brandon praised AIM’s efforts not only on their rescues, but also on the rehabilitation side. “AIM is very focused on the rehabilitation process,” he said. “They have a Muay Thai fight school. It’s a very good connection to the locals and helps in that rehabilitation process. AIM does a really good job of helping the victims go to the communities where they come from.”

Brandon, with a 20-year military background in special ops, as well as a Master’s degree in forensics and training by the Department of Defense in Trafficking in Persons, recognizes the strength a partnership with AIM gives to combating sex trafficking in Cambodia. “O.U.R. really wouldn’t have been able to work in Cambodia without this partnership,” he said.

“It would take years of work to establish ourselves in Cambodia, but when we partner with an organization, we can get the work done more quickly.” He also explained that the funds O.U.R. provides to AIM equates to a fraction of the cost to send jump team members there in just airfare and hotel cost. Brandon feels the partnership helps cut costs and allows O.U.R. to work with AIM instead of “reinventing the wheel.”

With the five joint operations in 2016 with AIM, Brandon has seen the benefits of working together towards a common goal. From first establishing the connection with AIM, to the most recent success with “Operation Bullhorn,” Brandon continues to play a vital role in providing training and funding to AIM’s effort to curb the human trafficking infection in Southeast Asia.

How can people get involved?

One way that people can get involved is being educated on the issue. There are organizations all over the world that are combating this issue. We all are capable of fighting the issue, using the talents, abilities and skills we already possess. Allard feels that people need to find a niche they are passionate about and follow it. “No matter where you live, there is likely an organization that is fighting human trafficking,” she said. “Just being aware of the issue, however, isn’t enough. We need people who are willing to act.”

Sex Sting Nabs Alleged Child Predators

Sex Sting Nabs Alleged Child Predators

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2016 in the Appealdemocrat.com

By Monica Vaughan/mvaughan@appealdemocrat.com

The child sex sting that led to a Yuba City planning commissioner’s arrest and subsequent resignation was part of a months-long, resource-intensive operation that resulted in criminal charges filed against five other men.

The most recent arrests were Tuesday night, when two men were hancuffed and questioned after they separately showed up at a meeting location where they presumably planned to have sex with 9- and 14-year-old girls.

“They’re predators in our community. They’re looking for kids to have sex with. Grown men are looking for children to have sex with,” said Jason Parker, chief investigator at the Sutter County Districk Attorney’s Office, which is coordinating the stings.

“When we set operations up, we know these guys are out there. Our goal is to go after them.”

While similar stings have been conducted across the country for years, this is the first sting in Yuba-Sutter to focus on child sex crimes. It was created and led by District Attorney Amanda Hopper, with support from the Sutter County Sheriff’s Office, the Yuba City Police Department and an outside organization, Operation Underground Railroad.

“Much of public safety is reacting to crime after it occurs. This operation was proactive,” Hopper told the AppealDemocrat in her first public statements about the operation.

Men who were arrested in the Sutter County stings are accused of reaching out to what they believe to be people offering children for sex. They allegedly clearly communicated what they would do with the minors, and showed up at a pre-arranged meeting, presumably with the intent to rape or molest children.

Defense attorneys representing men arrested in the stings, who were contacted by the Appeal-Democrat, said they were not yet familiar enough with the operation to provide a statement.

While the sting operation is seemingly bait to trap would-be perpetrators, Deputy District Attorney Clint Curry said it isn’t entrapment.

“A person is entrapped if a law enforcement officer engages in conduct that would cause a normally law-abiding person to commit that crime,” Curry said. “It’s an objective test. It doesn’t matter subjectively what’s in the suspect’s mind. It looks at behavior of the government agent.”

In this operation, detectives don’t offer people any motivation or reason to come to the meeting, he said. For example, he said, they don’t say “If you have sex with this child, she will be freed from slavery.”

Staff from Operation Underground Railroad assisted the agencies in implementing the plan.

“We’re a small rural community with limited resources,” Hopper said. “Operation Underground Railroad provided the support, experience and education and resources that we would not otherwise have.”

“One of the things the District Attorney’s Office agrees with Operation Underground Railroad in, is the need to educate people about how real child sexual exploitation is, and that it’s here and it’s everywhere.”

Each operation required hours of commitment from officers in three law enforcement agencies, Hopper said.

Details were not immediately available about how much staff time the operation cost.

“Every person there (Tuesday) had already worked full days and nights, and then more days. They put in the hours because they wanted to, because they had the opportunity to do good for Sutter County and to protect its children,” Hopper said.

Sheriff J. Paul Parker said it’s “absolutely” worth it for four or five of his deputies to work flex time or overtime to participate.

While most arrests of suspected sexual predators are made after a victim comes forward, the crimes the men caught in this sting operation allegedly committed have no real victims.

“It’s cheaper to intercept (these crimes) before they occur than after they occur,” he said.

After a sex crime has been committed against a child, “you have a victim, someone who has been traumatized for the rest of their life. How do you put a monetary value on that? You can’t.” This (operation) is a fiscally conservative approach,” Parker said. I think it’s been very successful.”

The suspects

The seven arrested men don’t seem to share any traits aside from their gender.

“We’ve seen 18-years-old, 50-years-old, economically well-to-do and we’ve seen dirt poor. We’ve seen different racial groups represented,” said Deputy District Attorney Clint Curry. “The only thing they have in common is they have a penis.”

Aside from Ivin Rhyne Jr., a former Yuba City planning commissioner who works with the California Energy Commission, most of the men caught in the sting live in the Sacramento Valley, but outside of Yuba-Sutter.

Jeffery M. Albo, 50 from Washington state, told investigators he was in the area as a contractor for three weeks at Beale Air Force Base.

Albo and Timothy L. Neher, 40, were arrested Tuesday evening, after they separately showed up at different times at the meeting location. Both are married with children, according to court documents.

Charges filed against them in Sutter County Superior Court on Thursday include felonies for attempting to perform sexual acts with a child and for arranging and appearing at a meeting with the intent to perform sex acts with a child. The most serious count is punishable by night years in prison.

Law enforcement officials involved in the operation say the men are predators, and the operation allows those men to be weeded out. The point was argued Thursday during Albo’s arraignment in front of Judge Christopher Chandler.

Although Albo has no criminal history, “This is the kind of crime that happens in secret,” Curry said. “It takes a lot of resources for law enforcement to ferret out.”

Albo’s attorney, Chris Carlos, argued Albo has never been arrested, and it’s “not appropriate to say he might have something out there. (He has) no criminal history.”

Assuming Albo did what officers say he did, “he made a mistake,” Carlos told the judge.

How it works

Each sting operation requires weeks of preparation. From start to finish, some 20 officers are involved.

“Every cop who works these goes, ‘This is what law enforcement is about. This is what I always wanted to do’,” Parker said.

On Tuesday evening, more than a dozen detectives gathered at a remote location to await the arrival of a suspect. Undercover officers posed to meet the suspect, as clearly armed officers on arrest teams waited nearby, prepared to cuff the suspect after a signal was communicated.

The suspect said he would meet at the spot when he left work.

In the days leading to the meeting, he and a few other men communicate with an undercover detective who claimed to have access to children available for sexual acts. There was no discussion of an exchange of money, only an interest in sex with children.

Audio and video surveillance was wired in the meeting location, which officers observed in a nearby room.

“Our hopes would be that we set up an operation and have no one respond,” Parker said.

That hasn’t been the case. At least on arrest has been made each of the five times detectives set up a location. On several occasions, men have expressed interest and arranged a meeting but never showed up.

“That’s not a bad thing,” Hopper said. “If they are legitimately hesitant about raping children, I want them to back out.”

The first target suspect on Tuesday did not back out. As soon as he arrive, he was arrested. During a search, officers found in his possession condoms and a bottle lubricant, Parker said.

He gave short answers.

Detectives off-site listened to the interview through a baby monitor.

After he was driven away to be booked into Sutter County Jail, detectives stayed on site and prepared for the next suspect’s arrival.

Arrested and charged

David Ignacio Chavarin, 33 of North Highlands.

Nicolas Davide Brown, 26, of Oroville.

Howard Montenegro, 44 of Sacramento.

Timothy Leroy Neher, 40 Chico.

Jeffery Michael Albo, 50, of Edmonds, Wash.

Professional baseball player observes sting

Former White Sox baseball player Adam LaRoche was present with Sutter County law enforcement officers to observe a child sex sting operation on Tuesday evening.

“After my experience overseas, I went on a quest to find out more about trafficking. That’s when I cam in contact with Operation Underground Railroad and was invited to Sutter County,” LaRoache said in statement provided to the Appeal-Democrat.

“Everyone who was present in Tuesday’s operation has an interest in protecting children,” said Sutter Coutny District Attorney Amanda Hopper, whose office coordinated the sting.

 

 

Operation Whale Watch

Operation Whale Watch

 

Latin America

Rescued 24     Arrested 5

 

Operation Whale Watch was a high-risk mission that Operation Underground Railroad’s ops leader felt was worth the risk. And he was right.

Twenty-four young women were rescued in this operation in Latin America. Only one was a minor. But that one minor is key in the potential punishment of the five traffickers. Because of that 16-year-old girl, they are now facing 15-30 years in prison. That’s a good day’s work.

The mission went pretty much as planned, but was considered high risk for several reasons. First, these traffickers were professionals. They knew what they were doing and they had been doing it for a long time. They were organized, connected, and well prepared to deal with whatever came along. “This was a sophisticated crime ring. The real deal,” said the ops leader. “These guys controlled the drugs and the women, creating heightened security risks.”

Second, they were armed. O.U.R.’s advance team had done their homework and knew these thugs usually packed heat. “The head guy was armed,” said the ops leader. “He carried a pistol on his left hip.” On the other hand, O.U.R.’s jump team members’ weapons are more imperceptible, in that they are highly trained on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. All these assets are top notch and have served them well.

Third, some of the local police were less than trustworthy. “He had the local police in his control, ” said the ops leader. “We believe this guy had the local police on his payroll.” In order to vet out such situations, O.U.R. works closely with the U.S. Embassy and the federal government of whatever country they are operating in. “They always support us from afar,” said the ops leader. In this particular location, they knew some of the local police had been compromised.

This vital information came from O.U.R.’s advance team, which scouted out the area first to determine if there were traffickers and evaluate the potential danger. Their mission was paid for by specific donors who understood they were taking a risk also. If the intelligence didn’t pan out, the donor money would not result in a rescue. Fortunately, for both, it was a big score.

The green light was given. The operation was a go! The jump team assembled and developed a plan with the country’s federal law enforcement for a sting operation. Security is always a consideration, but in this particular operation O.U.R. brought in their top people due to the previously gathered intelligence. Nothing would be overlooked.

OP Whale Watch Beech Party

A house was rented and a birthday party planned as a cover for having a lot of girls gathering in one place. They didn’t want to alarm the neighbors or cause undo suspicion. Prior to the party, cameras were hidden around the room. This video would be useful later on for prosecution purposes as well as telling O.U.R.’s story.

The Latin American authorities of this country were involved every step of the way. Some of their law enforcement people were placed as waiters at the party, partly as a precaution for safety and partly to help when it came time to arrest the traffickers. Others were waiting from a distance and would move in once the signal was given.

Operation Underground Railroad’s ops leader was instructed by law enforcement officials that when he made the payment to the traffickers he was to be sure to count out the money in front of the girls so that they could later testify about the money. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

The girls started arriving at the party. It was clear to the ops team that many of them were reluctant to be there. In fact, they had overheard the traffickers telling the Madam, “You have to force the girls to be there.”

Negotiations never seem to go smoothly. When there is a lot of money involved and the stakes are high, emotions run high too. “They were trying to get the maximum price from us for the girls,” said the team leader. “They believed we were stupid tourists. They were trying to get $1000 U.S. per girl. That is the highest price we’ve been charged. Normally it’s between $200 to $300. One thousand dollars is the price of a virgin. And they lied to us saying many were under age.”

The mark of a true professional, however, is how they handle issues when things don’t go as planned. One group of girls was late to the party due to traffic. A decision had to be made. Do we go ahead and take down the traffickers with what we have or wait until all can be at the party? The O.U.R. ops leader determined it was too dangerous to wait. He moved forward with the transaction and pulled out the money, making sure the girls could see it.

The trafficker had a different idea. He did not want the girls to see the money. It was obvious to O.U.R. that he was planning on taking a larger cut than what he had promised the girls and he didn’t want them to know how much he was selling them for. A compromise was made and a bargain struck.

A drink sealed the deal and the signal was given. Forty-five seconds later the police stormed in. “It seemed like 45 minutes to me,” said the ops leader. “This guy did not have a weapon, but when the police broke in, he reached for a weapon he normally carries in his left hip, but he didn’t have it.” O.U.R. had warned him previously that he would be searched when he came to the party and he had chosen not to bring the pistol he normally carried. Unknown to him, O.U.R. had two of its own flank him on either side, just in case he had managed to sneak something in. He wasn’t going to get away with anything.

Everyone was arrested; even O.U.R.’s jump team. That’s how they manage to keep their cover. O.U.R. had also arranged for a couple of social workers to be there to help with the girls following the arrests. “They were sad, crying, and scared when the police came in,” said the ops leader, “but the social workers quickly helped them to feel safe.” The 16-year-old was taken to a shelter where O.U.R. will be able to follow up with her care and get her the help that she needs. She has since been returned to her family, but O.U.R. will continue to monitor her progress. So far, none of the adult women have chosen to take advantage of the shelter but that could change.

As for the group of latecomers, it is unknown what happened to them, but it is believed that there is still a ringleader out there somewhere who was very lucky this day. “The boss may still be out there and we’re looking for him,” said O.U.R.’s ops leader.” The government will be looking for him as well. His days are numbered.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operation Sun Bear

Operation Sun Bear

3 Rescued – 2 Arrested

The owners of a Vietnamese café in Phnom Penh, Cambodia were suspected of serving up much more than food at their little roadside business last month. Unusual activity in the area caught the eye of Operation Underground Railroad’s NGO* partner Agape International Missions (AIM)

and an investigation began.

With O.U.R.’s support, AIM joined forces with the Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police to investigate the odd circumstances involving the café and together concluded that it was operating as a front for a brothel. Further investigation showed that three girls were being held by the husband and wife team and sold for sex to approximately 15 to 20 buyers each day.

On February 17, 2016 enough evidence had been gathered, and O.U.R.’s partners, in conjunction with local law enforcement, raided the café. Three girls were rescued from the brothel and the owners were arrested.

At this time it is unclear where the three minors came from, although it is suspected that they may be from Vietnam. They are now in an aftercare facility where they are being helped to recover from their ordeal. Here, they will find their strength and be less vulnerable to traffickers in the future. In addition, they are learning new skills that will help them survive and thrive as they move forward in their lives.

An O.U.R. jump team member who works along side AIM says that it is not uncommon to see young girls being trafficked across the border in Cambodia. He says, “A lot of them come from Vietnam or from rural hill tribes on the Laos, Vietnam boarders of Cambodia. They are usually promised some type of legitimate work initially, but once they get to the capital, they are forced into the prostitution industry instead.” Those who have enslaved these young girls usually hold their passports and give them new identities, making it nearly impossible for them to escape.

The owners of the Vietnamese café in Phnom Penh have been charged with child sex trafficking and related offenses, and are currently in prison awaiting trial. O.U.R./AIM’s legal team is helping the three victims and will represent them throughout the legal process to ensure the traffickers pay for what they have done and prevent them from doing it to others.

“Operation Underground Railroad is very fortunate to have established this relationship with AIM,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard. “AIM has been working in Cambodia for many years and has a very good reputation.” Working in partnership with other NGOs is very cost effective since they already have a presence in the country.

*NGO: Non Governmental Organization is usually, although not always, is non-profit.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

Operation Jungle Cat

Operation Jungle Cat

9 Rescued  –  3 Arrested

They have no passports, no birth certificates and no country. They are considered people with no identification. Stateless. And they live in one of the most dangerous places on earth: The Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia.

This worn-torn part of the world, is made up from parts of Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos and Thailand, and is known mostly for its opium and heroin production. The area is heavily littered with land mines due to the last 50-60 years of civil unrest and its people are chewed up and spit out by heartless taskmasters.

Children born into such circumstances have little hope of escaping a life in either the drug or sex trade. It is for this very reason that Operation Underground Railroad’s brave jump team dared to venture into this lawless land.

“This was an extremely dangerous operation and we worked very closely with the Thai Border Police and the Thai Army Rangers,” said the team leader. “We also had some special contacts that we’ve worked with previously, who helped us on the borders with the investigation.”

One such contact alerted O.U.R. to victims of sex trafficking who were being held by a Burmese father and son team. The victims had recently come from refugee camps in Bangladesh and Bhutan and were tricked into believing they had found good fortune.

“They are coerced with promises of schooling or a good job,” said O.U.R.’s team leader. There are safe houses or holding houses the traffickers use near and around the border to hold the victims.”

Once at the border, the traffickers use various means to get their victims across and into other countries where they can be sold.

“They will dress these children in school uniforms, pretending they are being sent across the border for school. Once on the other side, they are usually sold from there to a brothel owner or a labor trafficker,” said O.U.R.’s team leader. “They are also used to carry drugs across the border.”

In Operation Jungle Cat, O.U.R. worked very closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of the children as well as our operatives. It was a very tense and dangerous mission, which led to a total of nine victims being rescued.

It is not unusual in third world countries for younger people and their parents to be fed a story of opportunity for school or success or employment. They are so desperate for that hope that they become vulnerable to predators. Then families who were already barely making ends meet do not have the means or ability to search for their children or convince officials to spend limited resources on these missing children cases. The children resign themselves to participate due to the severe threats of abuse and retribution they have experienced at the hand of the traffickers. The added transfer across a conflicted region leads to a lack of follow-through on such cases. The children truly are lost between government agencies and there are little resources for these cases.

Determining where to place the rescued victims of Operation Jungle Cat was complicated in this lawless land with stateless people. Some were returned to Myanmar while some of the children are in Thailand where members of O.U.R. will follow up with them. Three traffickers were arrested and will most likely serve a minimum of ten years in prison.

Kudos to O.U.R.’s jump team members and all those who risk their lives to find and rescue these victims of sex trafficking. Well done!

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

Operation Black Mamba

Operation Black Mamba

14 Rescued  – 2 Arrested

They call it the flesh market. Code for young girls wanted for sex. And the flesh market is running rampant in India.

The girls are hidden – literally – behind trapped doors. Locked. Only able to come out when their services are required. There are no windows, no fresh air, and no freedom. Some try to escape and are severely punished for the effort if caught. Most accept their fate as something they have no control over and are doomed to live in the shadows.

In February, Operation Underground Railroad, in partnership with the Indian Rescue Mission (IRM), rescued 14 young women living under such horrific conditions in Mumbai, India. Two of which were minors.

According to one O.U.R. jump team member, there are many such places in India and they are not too difficult to find. “It’s pretty easy,” he says. “I just have to walk down the street. We call it the hunt. We start at one end of the street and go on down it.”

He and his team know what they are looking for. “I’ll go to the bathroom, pretending I’m drunk, and look through the different hallways and will find girls. If I get caught I just say I’m lost.”

“If I can talk to the girls, I’ll ask them about where they’re from, if they have brothers and sisters. If they act stressed or if they have injuries this allows us to assess whether their stories are provided to them by the traffickers or not. Often they are abused or beaten,” says the O.U.R. jump team member. “I try to break down walls by asking, ‘Do you like it here? No. Do you have a passport to get back home? No.’ After a while you get a feeling for whether they’re telling the truth or not.”

This particular rescue operation was led by O.U.R.’s NGO* partner IRM in conjunction with the Joint Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Mumbai. After identifying the brothel, a team of 20 police personnel plus officers raided the bar at midnight. Only four girls were found, but they knew there were more. They just had to find them.

Hours of searching through long corridors and darkened rooms eventually yielded ten additional girls hidden in a small room that was obscured from view behind a wooden cupboard. These rescued girls have now been placed with a trusted aftercare facility where they will get the help they need to adjust to freedom and self-reliance.

The dance bar has been shut down and the owner arrested and charged with sex trafficking. O.U.R. will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that he pays for this crime.

No one should have to live this type of life and yet there are thousands of young women in India who are doomed to it. O.U.R. continues to look for them with the help of its NGO partners and will not stop until there are no more to be found.

*NGO: Non Governmental Organization

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

The Danger Zone

The Danger Zone

The most dangerous part of rescuing children from traffickers may not be what you think. There are many steps leading up to the rescue and arrest. First and foremost, you have to do some reconnaissance. If you’re lucky, it all goes well. But, that’s not always the case as our Jump Teams discovered on one of its recent intelligence gathering missions.

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from an interview with OUR Founder and CEO Tim Ballard as he talks about his Jump Team exploring areas of Haiti in search of enslaved children.

Tim Ballard: We’re doing a lot of work in Haiti right now. Haiti is a very dangerous place.

We are working in certain regions in Haiti where there’s a lot of human trafficking going on with children, whether it’s for sex or for labor. We’re going into those very dangerous places. We went into one village earlier this year (2015), where we had a small team and had set up a medical clinic to help the people but also to gather intelligence.

We had 500 people come through our clinic. After we had treated most of the people at the clinic, the group of traffickers turned on us. They didn’t know why we were there, except to do this clinic, but they were thugs and thugs do thuggish things.

We became vulnerable as a bunch of Americans who were driving in decent cars and clearly had resources. They surrounded us with machetes and machine guns and started threatening our lives and wouldn’t let us leave this little village that we were in.

The village elders went back to talk about what they were going to do. Some people were yelling, just kill two of them and send a message, or take their car, or whatever. And we’re just listening to this and our fate was in the elders’ hands. The village elders came back out arguing and one of them said, “I think you guys are innocent and am grateful for what you did, but I can’t control this mob so it’s up to you.”

So, we just all kind of put our heads down and prayed and got in the car and decided to just move out. They had guns and I told my guys, “If they start shooting, just run them over and just get out of here.”

In the time that we were waiting things had calmed down. I’d sent one of my guys who is a former Navy SEAL out to kind of calm them and disperse the crowd. I mean, things got super tense.

The crowd dispersed enough and the five gunmen who were blocking the road had dropped to about two. Who knows where they went. They went to lunch or something and that allowed us to go for it and luckily the guys didn’t fire and we got out of there. It was a very intense moment.

Question: What did the elders find you innocent of?

Ballard: They were trying to accuse us of being there for other purposes. They were saying, “Why are you here? White guys don’t come and help us. What are you after?” And they were saying that maybe we ’d found oil on their land and we were here to steal their oil. They were just making up allegations – all the mobsters. It was just an excuse. It’s a mob mentality. It’s very scary. I mean, even people who we had just treated had turned on us within hours.

We were at the point with them that if somebody had accidently bumped into somebody, if one of my guys had bumped somebody and he pushed him back that could be it. Everyone starts picking up stones and starts throwing them or something. Mob mentality is a scary thing because nobody feels responsible and they all get riled up. So these guys were just trying to rile up the crowd against us, ultimately to try and steal stuff from us. I believe they wanted our stuff.

So, when the village elders came out they were saying, “We don’t believe you did anything, but that you were here to help.” The truth was we did have other motives for being there, but one of the motives was to help.

We were very moved emotionally by watching this happen. We had real doctors there, and there were mothers there who had never heard a doctor say their kid was healthy and they were crying to know that their kid had been checked out and there were cases where we just handed out penicillin and likely saved lives.

I mean these were places in Haiti where no one has seen a doctor. It was a secondary reason for being there but it turned out to be just as important. Usually, that’s how it is. Usually, the most dangerous part is the intel gathering. You’re going into the traffickers’ home. You’re going into their territory to get the intel.

By the time you get the intel and traffickers are bringing the kids to you where you meet, it’s still dangerous, but it’s less. It’s controlled. They’re coming to your house and bringing the kids. Or they’re going to a place where you’ve already stood up 20 cops around to be there to give you backup. So, the actual rescue part, and we do that by design too because now you’ve involved the kids and they’re here, and so we need to make it as safe as possible, generally, the intel gathering phase is always the most dangerous by far.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

Operation Maya

Operation Maya

The Operation That Almost Never Was

16 Rescued – 9 Arrested

Everything was planned perfectly down to the last detail, but as events unfolded, not everything went according to plan. It was, however, a series of unplanned events that led to more victims of sex trafficking being rescued and greedy traffickers arrested than previously anticipated in this Latin American country.

The Opportunity

The rescue operation began several weeks ago, when a few undercover Jump Team members from Operation Underground Railroad were approached by a man who eventually became known as the “Fabricator.” He obviously thought these were American tourists looking for a good time, and he was excited to talk about what he could offer them. He had pictures and prices and was ready to make a deal. It almost seemed too easy for the O.U.R. Team.

Building the Case

At this point the team leader shared the information and intelligence with the country’s law enforcement and judicial authorities. O.U.R. had already been working to establish this relationship for a long time and was eager to move the case forward. All the evidence pointed to the takedown of a sex trafficking ring, and the authorities loved it. “This is fantastic. Let’s move forward,” they said. And then the case fell apart.

Falling Apart

It turns out that the “Fabricator” was making up the entire story. O.U.R. operatives discovered the pictures of the girls he claimed to be able to provide for the American tourists were, in fact, photos from the Internet. He had also insisted that the undercover operatives pay a deposit before any further arrangements be made. O.U.R. refused to gamble with donor money; the deal soured and everyone walked away disappointed. The “would-be” trafficker was upset that he didn’t see any money. O.U.R. operatives were saddened that the case had fallen apart, and host government authorities were frustrated that the suspected trafficker was able to just walk away.

Rebuilding the Case

However, the O.U.R. Jump Team was not ready to give up just yet, and they returned to the country a few weeks later, which happened to be just a few days before New Year’s. They followed secondary leads they had gained during their first visit, and the new suspects turned out to be the real deal. They not only had pictures, but also were actually able to show their victims to the O.U.R. operative. The traffickers were ready to party.

One trafficking network consisted of two men who worked in tandem and the other was a single guy who had connections. The O.U.R team leader reached out to the Latin American government again to see if they would be willing to take another chance. “He said, ‘If you guys are still ready, we’re ready.’”

To allow the country O.U.R. is working with to get credit for the arrests, and to keep our operatives safe, the host government provided the Jump Team leader with a way to report the traffickers.

“They gave me an anonymous tip line, like a hot line with a phone number and email address. So I emailed them (the police) and said, ‘A few of us were in town minding our own business and these guys came up and asked us if we’d like to have a good time and party with young girls. They showed us several pictures of very young girls. We said we didn’t want any trouble with the cops.’ Per the host government’s request, I sent that email and that was enough for their prosecutors and police to start building a case.”

The government took over the case from there, but still needed O.U.R.’s undercover team involved since we were the initial point of contact with the traffickers and had the skills and experience to convince the traffickers to bring their victims. If local officials were to directly engage now, the traffickers could become suspicious and shut everything down. The plan was to have a sex party under the guise of a 16 year-old’s birthday party. The government approved the house where the party would be held and put the final touches on the operation. Everything was going according to plan… or so they thought.

The Party

“On the morning of the operation we thought we would help take down two trafficking networks,” noted the O.U.R. Jump Team leader. “Two networks total, each of them bringing about six girls.

“However, about an hour before the operation our advance team, who was in near constant contact with the traffickers, started getting texts from these guys saying, ‘Oh, I’m bringing a friend to control the girls, or an associate is coming who is bringing more girls.’ So they started bringing more people who wanted more money.

“This brought on the most dangerous part of the operation, the last -minute introduction of additional traffickers. We’d had several meetings with the traffickers we knew. Then, on the day of, they informed us they were bringing additional friends, so to speak, additional traffickers and additional girls. So, we’re not going to say no.

“All of a sudden people showed up that we didn’t know. That was a bit alarming, that and the fact that they brought drugs. Some of them were obviously on drugs. That was clear. They were just acting a little bit more erratic and their total demeanor changed.

“So all of a sudden I’m racing to feed this information to the police so they would be prepared for the total number of arrests and rescues that would be needed. Names, what they’re dressed like; because we met the traffickers at a pre-determined location about five minutes from the party.

“Then the traffickers showed up to the house. Our team welcomed them in, and everything was well planned. We moved the girls upstairs with one of the female jump team members so they would be sheltered from the police break-in and multiple arrests that would take place. There were no men upstairs to traumatize them anymore. We had chips, pretzels, soft drinks and music playing to try to calm them a little bit and we directed the traffickers all the way to the back patio on the ground floor.

“We sat them in a semi-circle around the table facing away from the front entrance so they would not see the police come in. I sat on the other side. Imagine me as a black jack dealer, passing out money while the traffickers sat around the table. We’re going over everything. The predetermined sign for the police to enter, once we had everything in place was, ‘Let’s have a tequila.’

“After a couple minutes we had everything ready and I called for the tequila. Two undercover police were on the patio acting as waiters and to provide additional security. About two minutes later – which to me seemed like two hours – the police entered in a perfectly choreographed manner, sending one team upstairs to protect the girls, a second to arrest the real traffickers, and a third to arrest the entire jump team and keep up the ruse that we were the bad guys.”

The Rescue

“There were 16 girls in the upstairs room, seven of which were minors. Some were the younger sisters of the traffickers, according to police, and many appeared very nervous and unaware of why they were at the party, as some had been tricked or forced into coming. When the police came in the girls appeared very, very scared. One began to hyperventilate. Fortunately our Jump Teams travel with a medic on hand who went upstairs and saw that the poor girl was nervous and scared so he broke character a little bit and pulled out his medical bag and began to calm her down. He told her she wasn’t in trouble. That’s also what the police told the girls. They kept saying ‘You’re not in trouble,’ trying to calm them down because they were scared.

“Meanwhile, the other victims, started talking to police and the country’s equivalent of child protective services, and shared information on the traffickers and their network. The victims made it clear that they were tricked into being there and did not want to be forced to perform sex acts. They were told they were going to come to a birthday party. We only heard that the day after from the Latin American authorities.

“The great thing about the post-rescue rehabilitation plan is, because we already had our in-country network of rehabilitation contacts in place from an earlier O.U.R. rescue, they immediately got in contact with the authorities and were ready to assist the minute these girls got out of the custody of child protective services.

The Arrest

“A total of nine traffickers were arrested, three were actually adolescents themselves, 17 years old. They were the brothers of some of these girls. The six adult traffickers are in some pretty tough legal trouble. They have been placed in two months of pre-trial detention.

“The rules in this country state that if you’re over 18 you can prostitute yourself if you want to, however, a third party cannot prostitute you or profit from your prostitution. The fact that these guys brought these girls to a sex party and stood to pocket money for exploiting the girls will be a big problem for them.

“That’s why our Latin authorities asked us to make it very clear on the envelopes in which we put the money, you put the number of dollar bills, hundred dollar bills, they wanted us to write clearly in Spanish, ‘For Manuel. For Carlos,’ etc. and ‘Thank you for the six girls. Here’s the price.’ What the Latin American authorities didn’t want was that later the traffickers would say, ‘No, no, no. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I didn’t know why I was at the party and what the money was for.’ ‘Well, here it is in black and white. Here are your names and the thank you very much. ‘“

Summary

“It’s always a fine line that we walk in these situations, not knowing whether or not we will be able to pull off a rescue, so it’s a credit to our advance team who refused to give up, and when the first suspected trafficker failed to pan out they continued to ask questions. And that’s what got us into the two and eventually three networks that we took down,” said O.U.R.’s Jump Team leader. Before the operation O.U.R. secured top cover to be able to go into these tourist areas to see what traffickers would offer us.

According to O.U.R., “The beauty of it for the government is that they don’t have to expend any resources until we have a case for them. We do all the prep-work and use limited donor funds for maximum effectiveness.

It’s a tricky business developing relationships, finding the right partners and rescuing the children from the grips of greedy sex traffickers. And it doesn’t always go according to plan no matter how much you prepare. Fortunately, as a result of the experience and training O.U.R. Jump Team members have, even though things didn’t go according to plan, everything ended up successful, with the bonus of additional traffickers arrested and girls rescued. Go Team O.U.R.!

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr