The Denver Post, link here
POSTED: 01/26/2015 03:19:59 PM MST
Federal and local law enforcement officials recovered six child victims of domestic sex trafficking and arrested two alleged traffickers during the 2015 National Western Stock Show.
The children — ranging in age from 14- to 17-years-old — were victims of commercial sex exploitation, the FBI said in a news release Monday. The FBI worked with several Denver-area law enforcement departments and the Colorado State Patrol in the operation.
Federal agents have previously found that large events with a national draw bring an influx of people and money into the city. With that influx also comes an increase in child sex trafficking, the FBI said.
"This will not be tolerated, and law enforcement will continue to use any such event as an opportunity to identify and rescue trafficked minors, prosecute those who exploit these children and increase the public's awareness of commercial sexual exploitation involving children," Special Agent in Charge Thomas Ravenelle said in a statement.
Organizers of the show said they were approached by law enforcement about the operation and that they welcomed it. The FBI said the sting spanned the week preceding the event through the course of the show. The Stock Show began on Jan. 10 and concluded Sunday.
"We've heard different rumors over the years, mostly from law enforcement, that this was happening (during the Stock Show)," said Amanda Finger, executive director of the Denver-based Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. "I'm not surprised."
Law enforcement agencies have been using big events throughout the country — most notably last year's Super Bowl — to target sex traffickers and help their victims, Finger said.
The Stock Show operation appears to follow in that trend, she said.
"With the involvement of so many agencies, it shows how human trafficking doesn't often stick to just one jurisdiction," according to Finger.
Paul Andrews, the show's president and chief executive officer, said he was "absolutely not aware" of the potential that child sex trafficking was happening in concurrence with his event.
"I think this is not specific to the National Western," he said. "It's specific to national events across the country. We happen to be one of those events."
Andrews said the stock show "cooperated fully with this operation," declining to comment on how he was approached by law enforcement about their sting.
The FBI identified Leann Wyrick as one of those arrested in the operation.
"We are not releasing the name of the remaining individual arrested at this time as trafficking-related charges are still pending," said Special Agent Amy Sanders, a spokesman for the FBI's Denver office. "This individual was arrested on unrelated charges."
Sanders did not immediately release further information on the arrests. She said the FBI's investigation is ongoing.
The arrests were made in Denver and Larimer counties.
The FBI said in 2014 its Denver Innocence Lost Task Force and Colorado law enforcement recovered 94 minors from commercially sexually exploitative environments. Federal officials said the recovery marked an increase of 54 percent from 2013, when 61 minors were recovered.
Colorado is a breeding ground for human trafficking because of the major interstates crisscrossing it, experts and activists say.
Denver police, Aurora police, the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, Colorado Springs police, Greeley police and the Larimer County Sheriff's Office all participated in the operation.
Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JesseAPaul