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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

 

Sex Trafficking In The Modeling Industry

Sex Trafficking In The Modeling Industry

 

By Monique Derr –

Her mind raced as the modeling agent urged her to lift her dress higher. She was alone in the room. It did not feel right, but she wanted so badly to make a good impression and get the photo shoot job. Perhaps she was just being too cowardly? Maybe this was how it was supposed to work? “Higher,” he said, as he circled her with his camera. Finally, heart racing, she dropped her dress and asked why it was necessary to show so much skin. “That will be all,” he said, and he left.

She did not get the job. It was not until years later that she learned her gut feeling had been right, that she had been wrongfully pressured, and that the man posing as a modeling agent was, in fact, a predator who was later sentenced to jail time for exploiting young girls with big dreams.

Sex traffickers find ways to target and deceive vulnerable girls in many ways, and aspiring models have become a major focus for some of these predators. “Sex sells,” says world fashion mogul Stacy Eastman. “It is rampant and selling everywhere.”

As an impressionable young man, Eastman studied the fashion industry with some of the best and brightest. “I went to Milan, Paris, and London as an intern, and was head hunted by the most powerful man in fashion, John Casablanca,” Eastman said.

After 10 years with Elite Model Management, Eastman decided to form his own management company and Pulse Management was born. Unaware of modern day slavery in the industry he had reached great success in, he initially sought to put his experience and energy into a model management company that ethically cared for the talent they represented. “I set out to bring morals and standards to the entertainment industry through schooling, healthy eating habits and sports, and really the betterment of the person.”

Eastman then became a husband and father, and was introduced to the reality of sex trafficking through the fictional movie Taken, and he became enthralled with learning more.

“Having spent my life in the entertainment industry, I’ve seen a lot of people sell out and it disturbed me greatly. So I started researching to see if people posed as fashion moguls for this same purpose. Right then, I knew I had to stand and make even more of a difference,” he stated.

Eastman came across Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), and started digging and learning all he could. “I bought tons of products in support and became, as they say, an abolitionist,” Eastman said. He has since found valuable ways to support O.U.R. and fight sex trafficking within the fashion industry and has played an active role in bringing awareness to the issue.

Pulse Management uses social media and their personal blog as a platform to educate their followers on how traffickers prey on models. They are able to spread the messaging and warning to millions of people through their clients and connections.

Public Relations and Online Media Director Lisa Hong Ballstaedt explained, “We have many followers who want to be models; they could easily be preyed upon because they want it… We want to be a voice of awareness for them.”

On a more personal level, Eastman is able to create dialogue with strangers who ask about the O.U.R. dog tags around his neck, which “I have never taken off,” he noted.

Stacy Eastmand being interviewed at the movie premier
Stacy Eastman being interviewed at the movie premier

Pulse Management has also hosted screenings of the movie, The Abolitionists, and works tirelessly to ensure the safety of the models they represent. Ballstaedt stated, “We protect our models…sex should never be a factor in a modeling photo shoot…we try to be a light in [what can be] a dark industry.”

For those who are pursuing a career in modeling, Eastman has some pieces of advice to ensure safety and legitimacy in potential opportunities:

  • Research the agencies. Check to see if they have a legitimate track record with the actual companies, designers, magazines, and so forth, that they claim they work with.
  • Confirm that they have strong character references from actual models and their parents who they say they manage.
  • The “agency” should never make or force you to wear something that is not age appropriate and/or shoot sexually explicit material.
  • Make sure that parents are always welcome to travel with their daughter, no matter the model’s age.
  • Never pay for “modeling schools.” There are really only three USA markets: NYC, which is number one in the world, Miami, and LA. Travel is mandatory.

O.U.R., unfortunately, has seen many modeling schools used as a cover up for traffickers to prey on the innocent. Unsuspecting parents are lured by promises of a successful modeling career for their children, only to never see then again.

In O.U.R.’s Operation Triple Take, potential sex victims were rescued from suspected traffickers who used former Colombian beauty queen Kelly Johana to entice them. You can read that story here. 

“We spend thousands of unpaid hours ensuring our clients are globally protected with their parents and their futures in mind” said Eastman. Anything less should be a red flag.

Pulse Management demonstrates well the value of contributing to the fight against sex trafficking by means of personal talents and influence. “I adore my wife and two girls, let alone ALL my clients who happen to be beautiful, smart, and athletic girls. I could not bear to see this (trafficking) happen and their innocence be destroyed. So I’ve tried to do all I can and will continue, period!” Eastman exclaimed.

It is important to recognize that any person or organization, with any background, is in a position to join this fight. There are many opportunities to fight sex trafficking, and everyone has a role they can play to stop it.

O.U.R. is grateful for the example Pulse Management has set, and for the work they do to protect young girls with big hopes and dreams. Their work can inspire others to take action against sex trafficking as well. Everyone has something to contribute in this fight.

CrossFit O.U.R. 2016

CrossFit O.U.R. 2016

 

 

If you live in Utah, there’s a great and easy way for you to help support Operation Underground Railroad. Come work out with O.U.R. jump team members at CrossFit O.U.R. in Draper, Utah. Coach Drew Rykert will get you in shape in no time at all, and who knows, maybe you’ll even get to go on a rescue mission.

O.U.R. founder and CEO Tim Ballard personally chose Rykert to run the CrossFit O.U.R. gym due to his experience and commitment to O.U.R. Rykert was already running his own CrossFit affiliate where Ballard and other jump team members were previously working out. Soon both Rykert and his wife became jump team members and participated in several rescue missions.

“CrossFit O.U.R. is for everyone, says Rykert. “Since opening our doors, we’ve had all walks of life come through and that is just what we wanted. This has helped us grow organically and develop a culture where everyone knows your name.”

“Couples continue to be a strong addition and we have started an O.U.R. CrossFit KIDS/TEENS program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 4 pm. We also offer KID CARE at 9:30 am and YOGA at 7 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 7am on Saturdays. There is a FREE introductory session every Thursday at 6 am and 6 pm.

Many generous partners are supporting the O.U.R. gym as a means of consistent revenue including WODOmation, Bam Bams BBQ, HYLETE and Kill Cliff and we are extremely grateful to them.

CrossFit O.U.R.
CrossFit O.U.R. Gym

The 8,000 square feet gym was built with donations from private donors and includes a 70 foot Pull Up Rig, Olympic lifting equipment and the best coaches that are trained and certified.

CrossFit O.U.R. is a for-profit gym that started up last September with the intent of helping cover O.U.R.’s administrative costs. With over 100 members and climbing, it’s doing just that. “This way money that comes into Operation Underground Railroad for rescues missions can go directly to saving kids,” said O.U.R. COO Jerry Gowen. The ultimate goal for gym enrollment is 300 members.

Come get in shape and support the organization that rescues children from sex traffickers. CrossFit O.U.R. is located at 13648 S. 200 W. in Draper, Utah. For more information go to our website: CROSSFITOUR.COM

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

12-Year-Old’s Best Gift Of ALL

12-Year-Old’s Best Gift Of ALL

 

By Caleb Larkin –

Twelve-year-old Rocco Cooper, from Dallas, in an ultimate show of selflessness, gave up what most boys his age think about more than anything else: birthday presents.

Cooper decided that for his twelfth birthday party on May 14th, 2016, instead of asking for presents, he would ask his friends to come with a receipt for their donation to Operation Underground Railroad. He was ecstatic at the positive response in both amount given, and possibly more important, how everyone got involved.

“I already have so much in my life and a lot of kids don’t have what I have,” Cooper said. “I knew that something simple, like giving up birthday presents, is a small sacrifice, but can hopefully make an impact.”

At twelve, Rocco has been interested in soccer, football, golf, piano and violin, as well as involved in his local boy scout unit, where he has many opportunities to be an example to those around him.

The Cooper family found out about Operation Underground Railroad’s mission through listening to the Glenn Beck radio show when O.U.R.’s founder and CEO, Tim Ballard, told of the horrors of modern day slavery.

“He’s my oldest son, and it is a sensitive topic,” Rocco’s mother Clairissa Cooper explained. “So it’s hard to know what you want to share with your kids. I felt my son was mature enough that he could understand what was going on.” She felt the mission held enough importance that her child could also make a difference. “It’s one of those organizations that is worth getting involved with,” Cooper said.

Clairissa did see the $165 donation from the boys as significant, but likely surpassing the monetary value, her son spread awareness of O.U.R.’s important mission.

“The reaction was really positive. A lot of the parents were really surprised, but excited to learn about the organization,” Clairissa said. “I would even suspect they donated more than they would have spent on an actual gift.”

Rocco first got involved after his mother received the Abraham Lincoln “Abolitionist” T-shirt as a result of signing up for the $5-a-month Abolitionist program. “I ordered the wrong size and then had the opportunity to explain to Rocco what the organization was about because it fit my son perfectly,” Clairissa said.

Rocco with Syblings
Rocco (C) with Siblings

Rocco then wore the shirt to school when his sixth grade class had a discussion about slavery. He introduced the organization and how slavery exists today and in what form. From then on he knew he really wanted to help these kids.

The Coopers live in an affluent part of Texas. Clairissa readily realizes that her children, Rocco, 12, and his two younger siblings ages ten and six, are surrounded by peers who have an abundance.

“It is a priority for me to help my children recognize the blessings in their lives and also how to use those blessings to help and serve others. I want them to see beyond comic book heroes and see what true life American heroes are doing in the name of O.U.R. rescue,” Clairissa explained. “This birthday experience expanded not only my son’s perspective on life, but that of his friends and their families as well. Sharing the stories of O.U.R. rescue with our children will spread hope and awareness, and raise a generation of men and women who can make this world a better place.”

Her son Rocco agrees, and feels like many more can get involved, even children just like him. “You can give up a Christmas present, do side jobs, or just give from your allowance,” he suggested as ways to help donate to O.U.R.

His purpose and selflessness is catching on already. “One kid came up and said what I could earn from presents to others, so he did it too,” Rocco said.

Rocco feels this birthday is not one he’s likely to forget. “It was a very positive experience, here we are still talking about it, even though it was a month ago. It left a lasting impression on me,” he said.

“It really wasn’t a sacrifice either. I was just happy to do it,” Rocco further confirmed.

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.

 

 

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? #Rescue 500

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? #Rescue 500

Total To Date: 529 Rescued – 182 Arrested
(2014-2016 )

In April 2016 O.U.R. hit the 500 mark for the number of rescues of victims of sex trafficking. Far more than its founder, Tim Ballard, was able to accomplish in the 10 years he worked with Homeland Security rescuing children from sex traffickers.

Currently O.U.R. is averaging four to five rescues per month. The exact number of victims rescued as of this writing is 529, but Ballard will tell you it’s not the numbers that count. “We are action focused,” said Ballard. The quantifiable numbers show our progress, but they only tell a part of the story.”

One of the most important areas of success can’t really be measured. It is the deterrent effect. And that is the result of catching traffickers and pedophiles before they can get to their targets.

“There are children out there right now who will never be trafficked because the people that would have trafficked them are in jail,” said Ballard. “And they don’t even know they would have been trafficked because it never happened. You can’t measure that.”

The second deterrent is the fear of getting caught. With O.U.R.’s successes, many traffickers are now afraid to sell children where O.U.R. has been operating, and pedophiles are afraid to buy them. O.U.R.’s jump team verified this recently when returning to areas where they had previously conducted stings, working undercover, trying to buy children. The traffickers informed them that it is now very dangerous and they will no longer sell children. This is the goal O.U.R. hopes to replicate all over the world.

Operation Underground Railroad first began rescuing children two and a half years ago in developing countries where resources are limited and children are most vulnerable due to poverty and cultural issues. O.U.R. always works within the law and with law enforcement in a public/private partnership that is resulting in a very successful model.

Law enforcement in the United States is taking notice of O.U.R.’s impressive record in these developing countries and some areas of the country are now partnering with O.U.R. to help supplement their meager budgets since O.U.R. does not charge for their services.

To date O.U.R. has helped law enforcement in the U.S. rescue eight children and arrest 47 potential pedophiles. And according to O.U.R.’s COO Jerry Gowen, the arrests are the number we should be paying attention to because for every pedophile taken off the streets, numerous children will never be violated.

O.U.R. is leveraging technology to help eradicate pornography and shine a light on the problem of child sex abuse in the United States as well as other countries. “We’re helping rescue children in so many ways,” said Gowen. As we get more resources we’ll do even more.” O.U.R. is currently operating in Southeast Asia, South, Central and North America and The Caribbean with the goal of one day eliminating child sex trafficking all over the globe.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

Aftercare with O.U.R.

Aftercare with O.U.R.

Editor’s Note: The following description of Operation Underground Railroad’s Aftercare program is written by the director of aftercare for O.U.R. and is intended to give you an idea of how O.U.R is helping the children it rescues. 

The keyword in Operation Underground Railroad Aftercare truly is “Collaboration”.

We are committed to the journey of supporting survivors in their healing process. At this time, O.U.R. has found the most effective model is partnering, empowering and supporting in-country organizations, safe homes and aftercare centers.

Through collaboration we have been able to support the care of survivors far beyond what we would have been able to do on our own. In order to be most effective, we believe that people who have already invested years in the country are the experts and understand the culture far greater than those who do not live there. It is the desire of O.U.R. Aftercare that we come in with a servant’s heart and an empowering spirit.

Aftercare also works directly in collaboration with the O.U.R. Jump Team and government officials to communicate the needs and potential aftercare centers for children. We then assist in the communication to the center about upcoming rescues and the predicted needs, such as additional social workers and medical professionals in-country.

It is the current practice of O.U.R. Aftercare that before an operation, we build partnerships with in-country aftercare centers that will be able to provide quality holistic care through the healing process of the trauma of trafficking. We believe in ensuring that a survivor has the resources to receive as much aftercare services as needed. We also continue to build on the generous support of individuals and corporations to increase the amount of humanitarian aid and aftercare assistance from O.U.R.

Due to the generous support of many individuals and partnerships, we are also able to provide humanitarian aid based on the need and specific request of the aftercare center. We believe in providing strategic humanitarian aid that is empowering to the center’s short and long term goals.

Summary:

We believe that established, vetted aftercare centers are the experts in their country and we are servants. Servants that believe in empowering dreams, visions and hope for each survivor’s future. United we stand in the fight against human trafficking and the healing process of victims that become thriving survivors.

RIDE THE RAILROAD: Charity Bike Ride

RIDE THE RAILROAD: Charity Bike Ride

By Donovan Baltich

Mark never imagined himself sitting across the table from a CEO and executives of a major corporation — at least, not until after he graduated from high school.

But that’s just how far the 17-year-old from Irvine, California was willing to go to raise money and awareness for Operation Underground Railroad’s mission. Mark Tenney’s campaign, “Ride the Railroad,” has been in development for a year and will kick off this July. With a goal of raising $250,000, it is well on its way with $96,000 pledged thus far.

Mark and his brother met O.U.R. founder Tim Ballard when he came to the Tenney’s house for dinner and to share O.U.R.’s mission. “My brother and I were just so impressed — what a self-less job, rescuing kids. We wanted to help out by telling all our friends about it,” Mark said. “We always thought about how we could raise money for this organization, but I’m not in a position to donate a large sum of money myself.”

The Tenneys are a family of cyclists — and living in Irvine, they know many other cyclists. Mark came up with the idea to have a 450-mile bicycle race down the coast of California, from Santa Cruz to Laguna, during the week of July 26–30.

But individual contributions wouldn’t be enough to reach a quarter-of-a-million in funds for rescuing kids, so Mark reached out to corporations for sponsorships.

“The first time I met with a potential corporate sponsor, it was with Golden State Foods, and I was really intimidated sitting across from the CEO and other executives, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you become,” he said.

“Ride the Railroad” won’t start for another two months, hopefully allowing the campaign to pick up its final contributions to reach its goal, which would fund five separate missions at $50,000 a piece.

“It will all be worth it — all the hard work and time we’ve done — is all worth it, and I’m excited to see it happen,” Mark said.

Mark’s mother, Elizabeth Tenney, estimates her family has put in more than 1,000 hours preparing for the “Ride the Railroad” campaign, and Mark alone, five–ten hours a week. O.U.R.’s mission has affected every member of the Tenney family. “The people involved in O.U.R. are so special. They’re not just good people; they’re exceptionally good people,” Elizabeth said.

Anyone can make a difference; Mark is proof of that. You can follow his lead by starting your own campaign or supporting someone else’s. Since September 2014, 92 abolitionists have created campaigns, and they’ve raised $299,020.73 through YourRescue.org.

Raising money for Operation Underground Railroad has never been easier with the launch of YourRescue.org site. On the page, you can start your own campaign or browse dozens of others to get involved in.

The possibilities for your own campaign are endless: from dance parties at Cal State Fullerton to collecting donations at your band’s shows. One community in Bountiful, Utah hosted a silent auction, a race and an event night with Tim Ballard, raising more than $100,000.

HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN YOURrescue CAMPAIGN

Whether big or small, follow these eight tips to create an impactful YOURrescue Campaign.

1. Make the first donation. Listen: you can get the momentum going before you’ve even written your first fund request. Donate to the cause you believe in to get the ball rolling.

2. Send out emails. Your friends are dying to get something more meaningful in their inbox. They are good people who are happy to help. Send out personalized emails to the people you know before reaching out to the people you don’t. Just take two paragraphs to explain your cause, your goals and how they can donate to your campaign. Link to O.U.R. pages and stories that moved you. Don’t be afraid to follow up, and make sure to say thank you for every donation.

3. Announce your campaign via social media. We love social media! Let everyone on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram know what you’re doing and how they can help. Here are 140 characters to help you get started: Children all over the world are ensnared in the horrors of human trafficking. We can change that. Join my campaign: (link to your campaign here.)

4. Reach out to your inner circle. Call, email and send notes to your mom, dad, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and that kindergarten teacher you’ve kept in touch with for three decades. They are interested in your cause and will want to help you make a difference.

5. Utilize grassroots marketing. Call your local newspaper, local news station and local radio shows. Ask them how you can work together to raise awareness.

6. Do giveaways. Approach local businesses to see if they will donate to your campaign.

For example, do you know someone who makes the most amazing holiday wreaths? Ask them to give one wreath to every person who donates more than $50. Your giveaways will publicize the products of the participating business while also giving incentives for more donations.

7 Have fun. Your campaign can be a blast! Hold fundraising events that you’d want to be a part of even if you weren’t involved in planning them; get your friends involved, hold bake sales, or sell vintage clothing in pop-up shops. Use this as an opportunity to get creative while making a difference.

8 Remember, no matter how much you raise – from $5 to $50,000 – you are using your time to help children. We are grateful and they are grateful and you’ve made a meaningful difference.

THE ABOLITIONISTS: MAKING THE MOVIE

THE ABOLITIONISTS: MAKING THE MOVIE

Editor’s Note: This story was originally written during the making of the film. Portions have been updated to reflect the completion of the movie.

__________________________

Imagine being right there with the Jump Team when they rescue the guarded children who are being used as pawns in a sick game of sex. Imagine seeing the startled faces of the depraved men as they are being arrested for prostituting them. Or, perhaps you’d like to go undercover and play the “bad guy” who is buying the innocents.

It may not be possible for you to witness any of these things first hand, but a film crew is following the people who do it all, and have now turned it into a major motion picture called The Abolitionists. This Monday, you will have a front row seat to all these experiences “up close and personal.”

FletChet Entertainment owners Darrin Fletcher and Chet Thomas have been working with Operation Underground Railroad, documenting O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard’s every move as he finds the children, works with officials, and has the bad guys arrested.

“Our goal was to make it as cinematic as possible. We wanted this to feel like you are part of the team. You’re literally going to see it up close. It’s gritty and it’s real and sad and heroic,” said Fletch of FletChet Entertainment.

The Abolitionists Film Crew in Nicaragua
The Abolitionists Film Crew in Nicaragua

Safety is always a concern for the Jump Team as well as the camera crew. “It doesn’t feel dangerous when you’re out there but when you’re back, it looks a lot more dangerous,” observed Fletch. Security dictates what the film crew can and cannot do. They use about 20 small Contour cameras that are attached to guns, helmets, hats, and hidden in rooms.

It’s not infrequent to go to places where they get patted down so they also use Pocket Cinema Cameras that work well in low light and blend in, making the film crew look more like tourists than documentarians. So far, they’ve used the cameras in Colombia, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and the United States with great success.

The “star” of the show is Tim Ballard, owner and founder of Operation Underground Railroad. It’s pretty much his journey of saving kids. Fletch says he is the perfect host and could make it in Hollywood if he wanted to. Fortunately for all, he’d rather be helping children.

According to Fletch, if there were a second star of the film it would be “Batman.” No, not THAT Batman. It’s a code name for a very unassuming man who helps O.U.R. find traffickers. Fletch describes him as one who is very comfortable everywhere he goes.

“I don’t know how he does it. He goes into these places and I can’t look. I look at the ground. Then I think I have to start looking because I’m drawing attention to myself. I look up and he’s right at home. Just at ease working undercover arranging buying little girls.”

Batman was telling a story that was so disturbing that I cut my camera. Chet cut his camera. You don’t see any graphic images. It’s all very clean, except for your mind’s eye in that moment.

san pedro

In Cartagena the film crew stumbles upon a beautiful cathedral and sends Chet, with his “sliver tongue” to find out what it’s all about and see if they can film inside. He comes back with a 93-year-old priest who gives them a tour of San Pedro Clavier Cathedral.

Inside is a glass coffin of San Pedro. It is the perfect backdrop for filming the meeting between the priest and Tim Ballard. The priest says Cartagena was the corner pin for bringing slaves to America and that San Pedro would see the slaves arrive and go and smile at them so they would at least see one friendly face.

“It’s a great story. There are really great stories about heroes who, in their own right, should be abolitionists,” said Fletch. The irony of the former slaves and today’s trafficked children is not lost on the film crew.

To ensure the quality of the film, Chet and Fletch enlisted Academy Award winner Jerry Molen as Executive Producer, someone Chet has worked with for many years. Molen may be best known for working with Stephen Spielberg on Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and The Minority Report.

Fletch says that although Jerry comes from an executive level, he is very much involved in the making of the film. “Once we had a cut that we’re happy with, Jerry would watch it and give us some notes and we would implement those. He’s also very well connected so his name still calls down a lot of power.”

And they’re all hoping that power and quality of work will win the film some attention and notoriety; not for them so much as to shine a light on the issue of child trafficking which will hopefully create more awareness and fund more rescues.

Funding for the film has come from private investors so as not to take any funds away from those who are rescuing the children. The Abolitionists will be released in 600 movie theaters across the United States this Monday, May 16th.

In making the film Fletch has discovered a disturbing truth. “I’ve learned people will do anything for money and there are good people and bad people everywhere. In our film we make a very strong attempt to ensure that the countries we’re in don’t look bad. We make very sure that there’s also a good story in the place where we go.”

Operation Underground Railroad is now hoping this movie will start a movement that will cause people to rise up and help rescue these children from slavery. Everyone can become an abolitionist.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

The Abolitionists‘ website

The Abolitionists: Movie Trailer

Buy Movie Tickets here