84 children found in sex trafficking takedown that touches Fort Wayne

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) A nationwide crackdown on underage human trafficking by federal agents recovered 84 children and captured 120 alleged traffickers, according to a release from the FBI.

Operation Cross Country XI, a joint effort by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, was held Oct. 12-15.

In Indiana, agents identified or arrested “several” alleged traffickers in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and South Bend.

“Although we did not recover any juveniles during our operation in Fort Wayne, we were able to significantly impact on-line sex trafficking in the area and were able to further develop excellent relationships with our state, local and county law enforcement partners as well as our public health partners,” said Supervisory Special Agent Jim Keszei. “We will continue these operations with the goal of locating and removing juveniles from sex trafficking.”

Local FBI agents tell us 25 female victims in Fort Wayne and South Bend were recovered. Six pimps were arrested. Two of those pimps were in South Bend. Four were in Fort Wayne.

As part of Operation Cross Country XI, FBI agents and task force officers staged operations in hotels, casinos, and truck stops, as well as on street corners and Internet websites. The average age of the victims recovered during the operation was 15 years old; the youngest was 3 months old.

The operation also involves training local law enforcement on human trafficking investigations. Fifty-one officers in Fort Wayne participated in the takedown in Fort Wayne.

Agents said this operations was a nationwide effort, but it’s not a once-a-year event. They are continuously investigating human trafficking locally and making arrests.

During a 15 Finds Out report earlier this year, Fort Wayne Police called human trafficking the city’s fastest-growing crime. NCMEC officials said it’s happening everywhere.

“Child sex trafficking is happening in every community across America, and at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, we’re working to combat this problem every day,” said NCMEC President and CEO John Clark. “We’re proud to work with the FBI on Operation Cross Country to help find and recover child victims. We hope OCC generates more awareness about this crisis impacting our nation’s children.”

This is the 11th iteration of the FBI-led Operation Cross Country (OCC), which took place this year in 55 FBI field offices and involved 78 state and local task forces, consisting of hundreds of law enforcement partners. This year’s coordinated operations took place with several international partners, including Canada (Operation Northern Spotlight), the United Kingdom (Aident 8), Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

Operation Cross Country XI is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, which began in 2003 and has yielded more than 6,500 child identifications and locations.

“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm. Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested – and the number of children recovered – reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This operation isn’t just about taking traffickers off the street. It’s about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse.”

Minors recovered during Cross Country Operations are offered assistance from state protective services and the FBI’s Victim Services Division. Depending on the level of need, victims are offered medical and mental health counseling, as well as a number of other services.

Examples of stories from various cities that took part in Operation Cross Country XI:

  • On Oct. 13th, FBI Denver recovered two minor girls – one 3-month-old and one 5-year-old. The subject, a friend of the children’s family, offered an undercover officer access to the two children for sexual purposes in exchange for $600. The FBI is working with Child Protective Services to conduct a forensic interview and secure safe placement of the children. The subject was placed under arrest.
  • Also on Oct. 13th, a 16-year old female victim was recovered by FBI El Paso, after an undercover agent called an online advertisement for entertainment. Shortly thereafter, the agent met with a 21-year-old female, who offered a fee of $200 to engage in sexual intercourse with her and another female, the 16-year-old victim. Further investigations revealed a second adult female drove the minor and the 21-year-old to the undercover’s location. Both female subjects have been arrested on federal charges.