Nine months ago, the O.U.R. International Operations Team began what would be a banner rescue operation in the Dominican Republic - Operación Catleya.
Responding to a request for assistance from the Dominican government’s Specialized Anti-Trafficking Police (PETT), O.U.R. Operators went undercover to confirm the existence of multiple transnational trafficking rings. These networks were reportedly dedicated to recruiting young women, between 15-23 years of age, to be sexually exploited for financial gain.
This criminal network allegedly lured women with the promise of a well-paying job in the Dominican Republic. Once brought into the country, the girls were coerced into the commercial sex trade, forced to consume illicit drugs, and sexually exploited numerous times per day. Many of the survivors freed in this operation were held at a hotel where they were humiliated and treated inhumanely.
A letter sent from the Chief Special Prosecutor Against Human Trafficking in the Dominican Republic to O.U.R.'s Regional Operations Director for the Mexico/Caribbean region thanking O.U.R. for developing and guaranteeing the success of Operación Catleya.
What started with a lead on a potential case of human trafficking became a precisely coordinated and thorough investigation of over ten suspected traffickers working in the Dominican Republic. These traffickers were reportedly selling young women daily, facilitating ongoing exploitation and abuse. The group allegedly targeted underage girls with promises of work as waitresses in hotels or nightclubs but then abused those promises to ultimately traffick the girls.
A case this size was an immense challenge, both for our host government partners, and for O.U.R. One of the lead O.U.R. undercover operators in this case noted the commitment of local law enforcement: “I was truly impressed with Dominican law enforcement. To do a case this size, for any department, is a huge deal. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials know the risk they take with a case this size, and they know it is easier to say no than it is to say yes. But they took it on. This was an immensely successful feat from Dominican law enforcement.”
To support our Dominican hosts, O.U.R. sent undercover agents to the island to investigate the alleged trafficking network. After conducting six joint intelligence gathering operations and funding five additional PETT sting operations, the O.U.R. and Dominican Taskforce was able to gather enough intelligence for Dominican prosecutors to obtain 11 search warrants for key trafficking targets.
Undercover operations to arrest traffickers and rescue survivors are always complex and delicate. Operators and investigators must make sure they are in the right place at the right time.
For Operación Catleya, O.U.R. Operators did just that.
Early in the morning on August 4, two undercover O.U.R. Operators sat in a parking lot. There was another man in the parking lot, who one of the operators immediately recognized.
“That’s our guy.”
The man was one of the several suspects who were to be served arrest warrants in the operation that Dominican law enforcement and O.U.R. had been preparing since January.
The undercover operators caught the suspect’s eye. Seeing that they appeared to be foreigners, the suspect saw an opportunity for business. He offered to provide over a hundred girls for sexual exploitation to the operators, who were posing as tourists potentially interested in a sex party.
With this evidence, Dominican prosecutors gave the green light for Dominican police to begin moving in on all the suspected traffickers across the alleged trafficking network.
Multiple search warrants, arrests, and rescues had to be carried out almost simultaneously so the traffickers would not have an opportunity to escape. One wrong move, and the operation would crumble.
This was an enormous operation for the Dominican government, as they brought in several of their law enforcement and security agencies, and the assistance of at least three non-governmental organizations. We salute all who had any role in this groundbreaking investigation and operation.
Keep following along to see how this landmark operation unfolded.
Operación Catleya took place on August 4, involving over 250 officers from multiple Dominican law enforcement agencies and security services.
On the initial takedown day, 10 suspected traffickers were arrested. In the days that followed, Dominican authorities continued to work the case and identified an additional 9 suspects to arrest, bringing to 19 the total number arrested to date. About a dozen members of the O.U.R. Ops Team supported Operación Catleya from its inception in 2021 and members of the O.U.R. Aftercare Team supported survivors throughout the whole process.
This operation marks a vital moment for Dominican law enforcement as it continues the fight to end human trafficking. O.U.R. is honored to have supported Dominican authorities in multiple human trafficking investigations and operations over the past several years, to include Catleya.
It is our hope that this successful operation will open the door for even more anti-trafficking efforts in the future.