FBI Joins Forces with Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement Agencies to Target Commercial Child Sex Trafficking in Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia
Over the past week, the FBI, together with its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, conducted Operation Cross Country VIII, a targeted effort to address commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States. Locally, the operation included enforcement actions in the city of Pittsburgh, municipality of Monroeville, and in the city of Wheeling, West Virginia, and led to 30 arrests on state charges, including three pimps and two adults that traveled for sex with a minor.
“Operation Cross Country has shown us with clarity that sex trafficking and child prostitution continues to plague our communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott S. Smith of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office. “Those who exploit children should know they will be sought out and brought to justice.”
“This operation emphasizes the strong results that can be attained through law enforcement’s commitment to combating human trafficking and bringing traffickers to justice,” said David J. Hickton, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
“Child sex trafficking will always be on the forefront of our priorities,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. “Those that target children are the lowest thread in our Commonwealth, and we will utilize every resource to stop and prosecute the individuals involved. I look forward to continuing our work with our partners”
“We are fortunate to have a great working relationship across all levels of law enforcement in Allegheny County, and this operation is a productive example of those relationships,” said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr. “These arrests send a strong message that it is unacceptable for women and children to be used to facilitate a criminal enterprise.”
“It’s important that we continue to work as partners on the local, state, and federal levels to deal with a variety of issues such as prostitution, violent crime, and drugs. Law enforcement is more effective when we pool our resources,” said Acting Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Regina McDonald.
“The Allegheny County Police have and will continue to assist the FBI and other police departments with efforts to arrest any individuals who prey on and victimize children,” said Allegheny County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt.
Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was established in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to address the growing problem of child prostitution.
To date, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered nearly 3,600 children from being exploited. Nationally, the investigations and subsequent 1,450 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 14 life terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets. This year’s operation resulted in 168 recoveries of children who were being victimized through prostitution. Additionally, 281 pimps were arrested on state and federal charges.
Task force operations usually begin as local enforcement actions that target venues such as truck stops, motels, casinos, Internet websites, and social media platforms used to market and facilitate child prostitution, 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. FBI agents further develop this evidence in partnership with the responsible U.S. Attorney’s Office 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.
In addition to effective enforcement actions, The Innocence Lost National Initiative also brings state and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers from across the country together at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for training on the identification, intervention, and investigation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Locally, representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, Child Predator Section; City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police; Monroeville Police Department; Moon Township Police Department; Ross Township Police Department; Allegheny County Police Department; Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office; West Virginia State Police, U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, Western District of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, took part in Operation Cross Country VIII.