Milford police help in nationwide sting to save children from prostitution rings

The FBI has arrested a number of adults accused of exploiting children through forced prostitution and recovered 105 children who were forced into sex acts.

While some media outlets are reporting that one of the children was recovered in Milford, FBI officials are not confirming that. They do confirm that the Milford Police Department was one of the agencies assisting in the operation, and that five children were recovered in Connecticut.

During the past 72 hours, the FBI, its local, state and federal law enforcement partners, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children conducted Operation Cross Country, a three-day sting targeting commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States.

The operation included enforcement actions in 76 cities across 47 FBI divisions nationwide and led to the recovery of 105 children who were being victimized through prostitution.

Additionally, 159 accused pimps were arrested on state and federal charges, the FBI said in a press release.

“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere, and the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”

Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative established in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, in partnership with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to address child prostitution.

The New Haven Division of the FBI worked with police officers and detectives from the state police, and police from Milford, Berlin, West Hartford, Norwich and New Haven. The agencies visited local hotels where various investigations suggest underage prostitution might be taking place. The teams worked through the night and around the state.

“The basic premise of these operations, first and foremost, is to safely remove these children from horrible situations,” said FBI New Haven Supervisory Special agent Sean Gordon. “The children’s safety and protection is absolutely vital. That said, we also work diligently to locate and identify the pimps and prostitution networks with the goal of prosecuting them and putting them out of business.”

Child prostitutes are frequently forced into the lifestyle, according to Special Agent in Charge Kimberly K. Mertz, head of the New Haven FBI.

“It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of how they came to be involved in prostitution and their inability to get out,” Mertz said. “What is gratifying however, is the true dedication of the agents and officers who work these matters. Their number one goal is to save these kids.”

“Operation Cross Country demonstrates just how many of America’s children are being sold for sex every day, many on the Internet,” said John Ryan, CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “We’re honored and proud to partner with the FBI, which has taken the lead in tackling this escalating problem.”

To date, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered more than 2,700 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 1,350 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 10 life terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.

Task force operations usually begin as local enforcement actions that target truck stops, casinos, street “tracks,” and websites that advertise dating or escort services, based on intelligence gathered by officers working in their respective jurisdictions.

Initial arrests are often for violations of local and state laws relating to prostitution or solicitation. Information gleaned from those arrested frequently uncovers organized efforts to prostitute women and children across many states, officials said.

FBI agents further develop this evidence in partnership with U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section so that prosecutors can help bring federal charges in those cities where child prostitution occurs.