CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Over 20 arrested in Utah County human trafficking sting, 3 victims rescued

Mar 24, 2022, 6:13 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 11:43 am

(Stock photo)...

(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

SPANISH FORK, Utah — Nearly two dozen people are in police custody and three human trafficking victims are rescued after a large trafficking sting in Utah County.  However, investigators say these arrests are just a small portion of the human trafficking problem in Utah. 

Investigators from 10 different law enforcement agencies in Utah County joined together for this operation.  Officials say many victims are trafficked through social media and classified ads. So, that’s where they focused their efforts, pretending to be pimps or potential Johns.

Human trafficking sting

Utah County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Jason Randall said, “We had undercover officers posing on social media platforms.  We also responded to ads.”

He says they set up a meeting place in the northern part of Utah County and arrested 21 suspects as they arrived.  Some of these men reportedly arrived under the assumption they would meet a 13-year-old girl.

“We actually arrested three individuals that showed up to have sexual activities with an individual that was underage,” Randall said.

Three human trafficking victims arrived with their pimps and were taken to get help.  Randall says most of them are from Utah. And too many victims feel they don’t have anywhere to turn for help.  Pimps will reportedly extort their victims in any way they can, whether it be through abuse, drug addiction or coercion.

Randall said, “There’s a variety of reasons why victims feel they get in these positions where they don’t have any choice but to participate.”

Still more work to do

Despite the success of the sting, Randall says the arrests don’t represent any major dent in the human trafficking problem in the state.  He says these arrests don’t even make up the “tip of the iceberg,” adding that these arrests don’t even scratch the surface.

Despite these challenges, Randall says their investigations will continue.  They seized cell phones that they hope will lead investigators to other suspects in trafficking rings. Plus, they’re planning more stings in the near future.

“In total, I think we have four proactive operations that we’ll be doing throughout the course of the coming year,” he said.

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Over 20 arrested in Utah County human trafficking sting, 3 victims rescued