FBI makes arrests in All Star weekend trafficking crackdown

FBI makes arrests in All Star weekend trafficking crackdown
Updated: Feb. 21, 2017 at 3:51 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - An FBI-led task force on human trafficking has had a busy two weeks cracking down on traffickers who came to New Orleans for Carnival and the NBA All Star game.

They have rescued several women and made several arrests. It was one of the busiest weekends of the year for human traffickers and visitors to New Orleans, and the FBI was watching.

"The series of operations have been highly successful," said Special Agent-in-Charge of the New Orleans office Jeffrey Sallet.

Authorities said websites offering illegal sexual services have been more active than usual in recent weeks, so the timing  was key.

"Based on Backpage ads and what we see on websites, we know there's been an increase," said Jim Kelly with Covenant House.

With that in mind, the FBI ramped up it's task force on human trafficking, and now Sallet said that operation was a success.

"A couple of weeks ago, we did a rescue operation with 11 women rescued and given victims services," Sallet said.

No arrests were made in that crackdown, but a second operation netted several arrests over the NBA All Star weekend.

"The operation concluded this weekend resulted in arrest of nine individuals, eight prostitutes and one pimp, and we had one juvenile who was recovered," Sallet said.

In the second phase of the operation, all of those arrested will be prosecuted except for the juvenile.

"There's a fine line between a victim and a subject, and in this case we determined that they were willing and they were arrested," Sallet said.

Experts in the field, say law enforcement has come a long way since the days when even young victims were treated as criminals.

"Years ago, we called it child, it's human trafficking," said Kelly.

The victims are given a variety of services with the help of Covenant House and other agencies. In spite of this recent crackdown, human trafficking isn't going away and the head of the shelter wants victims to know they do have a place to turn.

"I want them to know they are good, beautiful and brave, and together we can help them overcome this," said Kelly.

As we get into the heat of Carnival, the FBI plans to keep up the pressure.

"This is a matter considered a priority because people are victimized. We consider it modern day slavery," said Sallet.

The FBI says human trafficking is a high priority because it involves the civil rights of some of society's most vulnerable who are often under age.

Covenant House said it can provide counseling services for human trafficking victims who are underage. They say in many cases, that involves intense counseling that takes around 3 months.

If you know of anyone being victimized by human trafficking you may contact police, or the FBI at (800) CALL FBI.

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