Operation Cross Country X, West Michigan
David P. Gelios, special agent in charge of the Detroit Division of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced today that over the weekend, several West Michigan law enforcement agencies took part in Operation Cross Country X (OCCX). OCCX is a nationwide initiative by the FBI to recover juveniles who are being trafficked as prostitutes across the United States and overseas. The keystone elements of OCCX were FBI sponsored Child Exploitation Task Forces (CETFs). These CETFs consist of federal agents and detectives from state/local law enforcement agencies who investigate crimes against children, including human trafficking and child pornography.
Over the weekend (14 and 15 October 2016), the FBI’s West Michigan Based Child Exploitation Task Force (WEBCHEX) conducted undercover operations in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area in an effort to recover juveniles and human trafficking victims. WEBCHEX conducted these operations in partnership with the following agencies:
Grand Rapids Police Department
Wyoming Department of Public Safety
- Michigan State Police
- Kent County Prosecutor’s Office
- Kent County Sheriff’s Office
- Kentwood Police Department
- Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office
- Ionia County Sheriff’s Office
- Allegan County Sheriff’s Office
- Homeland Security Investigations
- U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Michigan
- State of Michigan Children Protective Services
- The Kent County Children’s Assessment Center
Investigative efforts resulted in the arrest of eight traffickers (or pimps) and their associates. Seven adult prostitutes were temporarily placed into custody, and one human trafficking victim was recovered. All the victims were offered a variety of services within the community, such as job training, housing, counseling, and medical and education assistance. Although there were no juveniles recovered, intelligence was gained on trafficking operations that will be exploited in the future.
“The success of OCCX in Michigan is due to the local, state, and federal partners who share the same passionate commitment to disrupt and prevent the sexual exploitation of children and adults, said David P. Gelios, special agent in charge, Detroit Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “While the recovery of juvenile victims of this exploitation remains our priority, the FBI will continue to fight this battle and conduct these operations as long as anyone is being commercially trafficked and exploited.”
The annual OCC operation is one element of an ongoing national strategy to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Throughout the year, FBI CETFs in Michigan conduct investigations and operations throughout the state. A challenging element of this criminal activity is that pimps and their victims often travel throughout the nation to engage in prostitution and do not necessarily reside in the area where they are located by authorities. Nationwide operations like OCCX allow law enforcement to expand their efforts during a focused period of time. In this fashion, the FBI and its partners are able to cast a broad net which gives law enforcement a better opportunity to identify, locate, and recover victims before they are moved to another area. In addition, the intelligence gained from simultaneous operations conducted across the country gives investigators a better understanding of the criminal threat.
The Grand Rapids WEBCHEX CETF is one of three FBI sponsored CETFs in the state of Michigan. CETFs are also located in Macomb County and in Detroit, Michigan.
These CETFs provide a rapid and effective investigative response to crimes involving the victimization of children. These task forces strive to reduce the vulnerability of children to acts of sexual exploitation and abuse. The task forces also strengthen the capabilities of federal, state, and local law enforcement through training programs and investigative assistance.
OCC is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, which began in 2003. Since its creation, the program has identified and recovered more than 6,000 children from child sex trafficking, resulting in lengthy prison sentences being handed down to defendants who exploited children.
OCCX was a success in West Michigan because of the dedication of state and local law enforcement officers.
“The Wyoming Department of Public Safety is proud to partner with our local FBI office and other West Michigan law enforcement partners in combating the evils of human trafficking,” said James Carmody, director of Public Safety, city of Wyoming. “We are steadfast in our commitment to apply our resources to do what it takes to free our community of this unfortunate reality. Even one trafficked victim is unacceptable. We thank our federal partners for leading this operation and joining us in protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
“It is my hope that the time and effort put forth by detectives from the Grand Rapids Police Department, as well as that from other local law enforcement agencies during Operation Cross Country, helps in the fight against human trafficking and leads to a successful prosecution at the Federal level,” said David Rahinsky, chief of Police, city of Grand Rapids.
Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young stated, “Combating human trafficking in West Michigan is some of the most important work that we will ever do as law enforcement officers. The FBI’s Operation Cross Country X served as an example of what can we can accomplish when we leverage the strong partnerships that we have with one another in the law enforcement community here in Kent County.”
“It is law enforcement initiatives like Operation Cross Country that clearly demonstrate how important local resources utilized in cooperation with our partners in the FBI is for the citizens of West Michigan,” said Gary A. Rosema, sheriff of Ottawa County. “This effort to address human trafficking with our federal partners demonstrates our commitment to the victims and their families who are impacted by this significant criminal activity. These joint law enforcement investigations and the possibility of federal prosecution will continue to make a difference in our communities.”.
Supplemental Materials for Media Partners:
Operation Cross Country, the FBI’s annual law enforcement initiative, focused on recovering underage victims of prostitution and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of sex trafficking in the United States and abroad. The operation concluded with the recovery of 82 sexually exploited juveniles domestically and the arrests of 239 pimps and other individuals.