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Operation Triple Take – One Year Later

Operation Triple Take – One Year Later

It’s been one year since Operation Underground Railroad conducted Operation Triple Take in Colombia resulting in the rescue of 123 victims of sexual exploitation with 12 traffickers arrested.

It was, and still is the biggest operation O.U.R. has conducted to date. Three Jump Teams in three different cities, executing a simultaneous sting in order to rescue sex trafficking victims; and it went off without a hitch due to the strategic planning of O.U.R., CTI (Colombia’s FBI equivalent) and Homeland Security Investigations from the U.S.

Today, many of the victims that were rescued are back with their families, safe and sound, if not a little wiser about the world. Many of these families were duped by the traffickers into believing they were sending their children to become models that would make lots of money to send back home. In fact, one of the traffickers was a former beauty pageant queen in Colombia and used her position to gain the trust of parents and their children.

Today, she, along with the other traffickers that were arrested, is in jail awaiting her fate. According to O.U.R.’s Senior VP for Rescue Missions Matt Osborne:

“The legal cases are ongoing, and despite intense efforts by the suspected traffickers and their families to gain their release, thus far the Colombian justice system is holding and the alleged perpetrators remain behind bars. The organized criminals and their families have threatened our partners in Renacer, CTI and elsewhere, but the brave Colombian prosecutors, police officers and the NGO specialists remain undeterred. The trials are likely to begin in the first quarter of 2016.”

One of the would-be sex buyers was arrested in Florida for his part in the sex party as well as other potential sex crimes including making pornographic films with minors. Dennis DeJesus, 45, of North Lauderdale was investigated by Homeland Security agents, which had evidence he was intending to fly to Colombia as a sex tourist, someone who travels in search of sex. As a result of the strong case HSI, CTI and O.U.R. put together, DeJesus had no other choice but to plead guilty and is currently serving 15 years in prison.

You can read more about his arrest and plea deal in Florida here.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-sex-tourist-broward-colombia-20150422-story.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2796189/florida-sex-tourist-busted-international-sting-repeatedly-traveling-colombia-sex-young-girls-produce-homemade-porn-films.html

In the city of Armenia, many of the victims have received additional support to combat the ongoing threats and pressure from the network of traffickers. The evidence O.U.R. and CTI collected during the sting however, looks to be strong enough to build a solid case against the suspected trafficker for a 15-20 year sentence.

According to Osborne, “The CTI partners remain in contact with many of the families of the survivors and report that most are doing well. The communities remain very happy with O.U.R.’s actions and the parents of the survivors are doing what they can to ensure their children do not fall prey to another trafficking organization.”

Rescued victims were treated by Renacer, http://www.fundarenacer.com/ a private-run organization that relies on donors. Osborne says, “Renacer truly is a first class rehabilitation center that provides the gamut of services to help any exploited child get back on her or his feet. Some of the survivors of Operation Triple Take received temporary medical, psychological and education-related care in the facilities, while a few survivors had to undergo full-time, live-in training to get them back on their feet.” Due to the sensitive nature and age of the victims we are not able to give individual stories.

Osborne reports that, “Following Operation Triple Take several members of CTI and the Colombian National Police (CNP), sometimes working in conjunction with the US Embassy, have stepped up their operational pace against traffickers and have looked to attack this problem head-on. Colombian authorities appear energized by the results of Triple Take and are looking to branch out on their own, exactly what the O.U.R. model encourages.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes honored the Colombian team recently for its efforts in reducing child sex trafficking, acknowledging their bravery in taking this step and noting that O.U.R. could not have done it without them.

“Colombia is our most competent, committed, and forward-leaning partner in South America, and we are looking to maximize this potential to save as many exploited kids as possible,” said Osborne.

http://ourrescue.org/blog/operation-triple-take/ – Operation Triple Take

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

Team Colombia

Team Colombia

Colombian CTI (FBI equivalent) Members in the United States being Recognized for their Work with Sex Trafficking
Colombian CTI (FBI equivalent) Members in the United States being Recognized for their Work with Sex Trafficking

A special team of investigators from Colombia is training with Operation Underground Railroad to improve their efforts in rescuing child sex slaves. They came to the United States the first week of July  to get tactical insight as well as software training.

O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard says their visit has been very helpful for both teams. “As an organization, we’ve been very active in Colombia. We’ve rescued over 150 victims last year alone. Colombia is strategically located in a place where we want to be, not just for the country of Colombia, but for the surrounding countries in Latin America. It has invested a lot in building a relationship with these Colombian officers.”

O.U.R. and the Colombians with CTI, similar to the FBI in the U.S., have had great success but want to train together to be more effective. Ballard said, “While they’ve been here we’ve had training in everything from rehabilitation to tactical and we’re going to a simulator this afternoon to train on reacting to dangerous situations.”

The idea is to create a working relationship that will lead to Operation Underground Railroad putting in a physical office in Colombia and eventually building a headquarters for Latin America there. “We’ll start our offices in Colombia with one or two full time people on the ground and then grow out from there,” said Ballard

The five-member team from Colombia acknowledged that none of this would be possible without the support of the donors for O.U.R. and expressed profound gratitude for their help.

Ballard is delighted with how the joint training has worked out. “This visit has surpassed all expectations in terms of what we can do now and in the future. We actually sat down and listed target cities. And they brought intel that they’ve been gathering, operations they could do if we would come help them. So, we’re actually strategizing for a specific operation.”

Additional training will be held in Colombia in August where Tim Ballard and another team member will start vetting out the situation underground in preparation for their fifth operation in Colombia that will likely take place this fall.

The Colombian team received special recognition while in the United States from Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes at the state capitol, presenting each member with a certificate for Outstanding Service in the Fight Against Human Trafficking.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

O.U.R. takes ABC Nightline to Colombia

O.U.R. takes ABC Nightline to Colombia

Sometimes, it can be difficult to visualize the work of others done in far off places. We are anxious for you to understand you are just as much a part of every mission as the people physically on them. Last night, Nightline showcased Part 1 of a Colombian O.U.R. operation they documented a few months ago. It is a boots-on-the-ground view of the work we do every day. As you watch, remember that every donation you make – down to the dollar – enables every rescue. You were there just as much as Tim or any other undercover operative. And we couldn’t be more grateful.

Watch the clip below or click here.

Children Rescued from Prostitute Ring in Colombia

Children Rescued from Prostitute Ring in Colombia

Youngest Prostitute is Eleven Years Old

O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard recently returned from a rescue mission in Colombia in which he and the Jump Team rescued 26 children and five adults used in a prostitute ring.  The adult prostitutes were there mainly to keep the children in line. In the following interview Tim Ballard talks about the mission and how it all went down.

Q: What is your most memorable moment with the Colombia rescue?

A: There was this 11-year-old girl.  She was really afraid.  There were several of them but there was this one little girl, and she was just shattered. A lot of them were, but, she was wearing a T-shirt and basketball shorts, and she looked like she’d just walked out of junior high school. She was being controlled by one of the adult prostitutes. 

I was down with the traffickers, and she was down with the other kids.  There were 26 all together – minors. There were a couple of them that were, like, 11 and 12.  She just really stood out, and when they (traffickers) got them back into the party, she just hid into a corner in the back yard. She kind of became the face of the rescue. 

We didn’t get any contact with them after the takedown. I’m a bad guy (undercover) anyway.  If she ever saw me, she’d know me as a bad guy.  We had Lori Holden; she’s an actress on the TV show The Walking Dead. She came along with us.  She’s an ambassador for us and she was back with the girls. They came in, and her job, along with several others, was to keep them calm, especially when the takedown was happening. She identified these younger girls, and she actually connected with them, and she was hugging them and crying with them and telling them they’re free.  She actually got that experience, which was really cool. 

Q: How does an 11-year-old end up in this situation?

A: They’re just coerced by the traffickers.  They’ll go to them, either directly to them; or it’s some connection. Usually, the trafficker has an adult prostitute friend, and this will be the adult prostitute’s favor or some connection, like she’s in an impoverished family and sometimes the parents know something and sometimes they don’t know anything. But sometimes they know something, and they’re getting in on the take too, which is incredible to believe. 

Unfortunately, on this case-and I don’t blame them-they’re (law enforcement) really-tight lipped about sharing anything with us. We’re not in the “need-to-know” with these cases, what happened to each one of these girls, so they’re not going to tell us. That’s probably wise. So we don’t know.  But sometimes we do. 

We have operations where, because of the nature of where we’re working, we get to know indepth.  On this one we didn’t get to know the details. But that’s how they end up.  It’s poverty. They’re deceived. The families are deceived. They’re told one thing.  Sometimes the kids are taken to another place.  The traffickers were telling us, and we can’t get a confirmation on this, (maybe someday when it all comes out), but the trafficker told us one of the kids was from Mexico and had been kidnapped and smuggled from Mexico. So that happens a lot, too.  

They’ll go to a family and deceive the family, some poor Mexican family.  “We’re going to take your child to the capital.  To the city. She’s going to be a nanny for us, and she’s going to get paid, and she’s going to go to school, and she’ll call you every week.” The parents get $500, or something, and they take the girl, and instead of Mexico, they go to Columbia. And they never hear from her again. That happens a lot.  The traffickers were telling us one of the kids was that (kind of instance).  So the Colombian officials confirmed that, so they’re keeping all the information about the kids really tight-lipped.

Q: Isn’t part of what you do is rehabilitation?

A: Yes

Q: How can you do that if you don’t know their story?

A: Well, every case is different. In Haiti, we have access to the kids. In Colombia, we partnered with an organization called Renacer *. They are a non-profit organization that’s licensed with the country of Colombia and they actually take care of the kids.  They have beds there.  They have psychologists and educators and they’re there for as long as they need to be.

Q: So you just turn over the children to them?

A: Yes, (to) the Colombian officials after the arrest goes down.  And with good reason.  We never have possession of the kids. The Colombians always keep control, as they should. And they’ve already partnered with Renacer*, so they take the kids there. In other places, like Haiti, where there’s not an established relationship, we’ve found a rehab center, an orphanage, ahead of time, a couple of them.  So before our operation, we talked to the Haitian officials and said, “This is where the kids need to go. These are good licensed orphanages,”  and so they respected that and made sure those kids ended up there.

*Renacer is a foundation that cares for children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

For more information on Operation Underground Railroad, please visit us at https://www.ourrescue.org/

Interview by Cheryl L. Karr