Operation Cross Country

May 15, 2009

The FBI and local and state police agencies around the country are working hard to crack down on child prostitution. Cross Country is what the operation is called.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello. I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. The FBI and local and state police agencies around the country are working hard to crack down on child prostitution. Cross Country is what the operation is called.

Mr. King: “Operation Cross Country was developed in support of our Innocence Lost National Initiative, which began in 2003 with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to address the sexual exploitation of children through prostitution.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s FBI Special Agent Rob King. He is assigned to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mr. King: “ Operation Cross Country brings our 30-plus task forces and working groups together during a specific time and date range, where they’re all out, those specific times, addressing the issue where they can correspond with each other since this is a national problem and people are moving these girls from state to state.”

Mr. Schiff: King says the task forces are made up of FBI agents and local and state police officers and sheriff’s deputies, all supporting Operation Cross Country.

Mr. King: “So far we’ve had three Operation Cross Countries. They began in June of ’08; another one was October of ’08, and most recently in February of ’09. And, we did this because we found that the pimps and these criminal organizations are moving girls across the country in different aspects; they may go from Detroit to Florida, back to Atlanta, and make different circuits .”

Mr. Schiff: King says the FBI and law enforcement has a terrific relationship with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Mr. King: “This has been a great thing. For several years the FBI has liaisons here along with analysts. Also out here, there’s representatives from the United States Marshals Service, the Postal Service, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Pretty much every federal agency has someone assigned here. And it really brings together the sharing of intelligence and the cross-pollination of these cases to where it can be addressed more efficiently. NCMEC is a great resource. They get all the intakes and calls about missing children. People are possibly reporting someone is missing or someone is being sexually exploited, it comes here, so it just saves a lot of time that we’re in the building and they can get these reports to us quickly so that we can evaluate them and get them to the proper people.”

Mr. Schiff: Ernie Allen is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, NCMEC.

Mr. Allen: “It was born in 1984, 25 years ago. Largely because this is a nation of 18,000 different police departments, and our goal was to support law enforcement in creating a national, coordinated response to what was happening to the children .”

Mr. Schiff: Allen says that law enforcement is keen on NCMEC for all it provides in assisting police officers and the FBI with additional resources to help protect children across the country.

Mr. Allen: “We can help them through providing technology; through a whole array of technical assistance and support; and our goal is to make them the stars; our goal is not to do the press conferences; not to get the attention. But to help that local chief or sheriff to find the child and bring them back to their family. To help them identify the perpetrator who is preying upon children and bring them to justice. And let me say that there’s no relationship, there’s no partnership, of which we are prouder, or has had greater impact upon the lives of America’s families, than our partnership with the FBI .”

Mr. Schiff: The FBI appreciates Mr. Allen’s kind words. And there’s so much more that NCMEC provides law enforcement every day of the week.

Mr. Allen: “We operate a 24-hour Missing Children’s Hotline mandated by Congress. We operate a 24-hour cyber tip line, the 911 for the Internet on reports of child sexual exploitation. We receive reports, real time. The FBI, in the most serious cases, when that local police officer feels that the abducted child is at serious risk, there’s a box on the NCIC report form that they check, and it prints out at our hotline. We’re a 24-hour operation; we’re always open, 365 days a year. And that’s important because time is the enemy in the search for a missing child. We know that in the most serious cases, in abduction homicides, in three-fourths of those cases, the child is dead within the first three hours. So we can’t wait until tomorrow, we have to move now .”

Mr. Schiff: Allen says NCMEC circulates the reports and also photographs of child victims and much more.

Mr. Allen: “We also have a team of case managers headed by a retired FBI agent who work directly with the law enforcement investigator in some community across America. We have a team of analysts who are searching data bases. Major data base companies donate to us free access to their public record data bases so that we can help track down abductors and locate children. We have a team of forensic artists who are aging the photos of long-term missing children to generate new leads and keep those cases alive, or to reconstruct facial images from morgue photos or skeletal remains to help law enforcement resolve long-term cases .”

Mr. Schiff: The FBI and police everywhere appreciate the enormous efforts of Ernie Allen and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. At the Houston, Texas FBI Field Office, Special Agent Patrick Fransen has been involved in Operation Cross Country and working with local and state authorities.

Mr. Fransen: “Here in Houston we initiated the Houston Innocent Lost Task Force. It’s made up of the Houston Police Department’s Vice Division and the Houston Police Department’s Juvenile Sex Crimes Division; we have two officers from each of those divisions. We also have one officer from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department from their Criminal Investigative Division, and the FBI; we have four agents here in Houston working Innocence Lost. With those three partners we actually pursue these cases here in Houston .”

Mr. Schiff: Fransen says the task force goes out to an area of Houston where prostitution exists. He says a couple of years ago there was a case where two young-looking girls were out on the streets. Turns out, one was an adult but the other was not.

Mr. King: “One of our undercover officers from the Houston Police Department approached the females; the youngest of the two entered his vehicle, drove down the road and agreed to conduct a sex act on the officer for a fee; and after that she was arrested for prostitution .”

Mr. Schiff: Turns out the girl was 15 and from Florida. After talking with both girls, authorities learned about a pimp, a guy from Florida, and that he was staying at a hotel. Surveillance began.

Mr. Fransen: “We had the oldest of the two females make a call to the pimp. That call was recorded and the nature of the call was to tell him that they were arrested for prostitution and that they would be going to jail. Shortly after that phone call was made, within 10 minutes, surveillance on the pimp at the hotel notified the rest of the Innocence Lost team that the pimp was running out of his hotel with all of his items and belongings; all of his baggage, getting in the car and getting up on the highway, presumably headed out of town. Because of that, we had local law enforcement conduct a traffic stop on the individual and he was placed under arrest for the incident involving the juveniles .”

Mr. Schiff: The older girl was processed through the courts as an adult. Fransen says the 15-year-old was helped by the Texas Youth Commission and given treatment and counseling.

Mr. Fransen: “This young lady, after doing about a month in our juvenile jail here in Houston, was then sent to a boot camp in the surrounding county and did five months in that boot camp. She did very well there. She succeeded; she grew with getting some self-esteem; learning some discipline, and after the boot camp program, was sent back to Florida .”

Mr. Schiff: There’s help out there for all victims. If you know of young girls involved in prostitution, call the FBI or police. They can help. And there’s more information about the FBI’s Innocence Lost/Operation Cross Country programs on the Internet at www.fbi.gov. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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