SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Spartanburg County and Homeland Security agents arrested 21 people linked to a human trafficking ring.
During a 2-day sting, investigators seized drugs, weapons and stolen credit cards. Detectives say they’ve identified 13 people suspected of being involved in human trafficking and 9 potential victims.
“This operation wasn’t a known trafficking ring,” said Homeland Security Investigator Acting Resident Agent Steven Michaels.
Michaels says the first phase of the sting operation was to contact the victims and help them out of human trafficking. So they had undercover agents arrange to meet with women and pretend to pay them for sex.
“We come in and we set up our deal for sexual services,” said Michaels. “Then we literally bring them in and speak to them about their situation. Our main goal is to offer [victims] services to get out of this life.”
Michaels says all the victims had drug addictions, which is a huge indicator of human trafficking according to experts.
“If your trafficker is your next hit of heroine, then obviously you are not going to leave him,” said SWITCH Executive Director Zaina Greene. “It’s also a way to control [victims] because if [traffickers] can put [victims] on drugs [victims] are going to be more agreeable. [Victims] are going to be doing the work that [traffickers] want them to do.”
Investigators say they arrested the people who drove the victims to the meetings, including a mother detectives say brought her baby along.
“She comes with her 10-month-old in the car with her to turn a trick,” said Sheriff Chuck Wright.
Investigators say the second phase of the operation was to catch people suspected of soliciting sex. So agents posted ads on different websites and arrested 6 men accused of Solicitation of Prostitution.
“I think it’s really important that we continue having these stings for buyers because the reality is this is a supply-and-demand industry,” Greene told 7News. “If people aren’t buying these services we wouldn’t see this increase in human trafficking.”
Experts say calling law enforcement is the first step to take if you believe you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking.
You can also call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office officials said 21 people have been arrested following an undercover human trafficking operation.
According to a sheriff’s office news release, investigators and Homeland Security Investigations conducted an undercover operation to identify and assist victims of human trafficking on Tuesday.
“This operation was conducted by utilizing undercover investigators who communicated with females engaged in the commercial sex trade,” officials said in the release. “An exchange of commercial sex for money was agreed upon, and the females came to a prearranged location. At this time, the females were taken into custody where they were interviewed by investigators and victims advocates to assist them in any way.”
According to the release, 15 people were charged with prostitution and six people were charged with solicitation of prostitution.
Sheriff’s Office officials said some of the females were found to be under the influence of drugs, as well as in possession of drugs at the time.
One female was charged with resisting arrest, and another female was taken to Spartanburg Medical Center for treatment for what appeared to be an abscess on her arm. Doctors later determined that it was an infected broken needle from previous heroin use.
According to the release, she was treated and admitted into the medical center.
Investigators located several people who were responsible for transporting the females to a location for the purpose of commercial sex. Those individuals were also taken into custody and charged with prostitution, as well as for other crimes such as three counts of possession of methamphetamine, two counts of possession with intent to distribute heroin, two counts of unlawful carrying of a weapon, possession of a schedule II, possession of a schedule III, driving under suspension, habitual traffic offender and financial transaction card theft.
The following people were charged as a result of the investigation:
- Thomas Obryan Williamson – prostitution
- Wayne Thurmond – prostitution, driving under suspension, habitual traffic offender
- Annie Firebaugh – prostitution, possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of methamphetamine, unlawful carry of a firearm
- Krist Roker – prostitution, possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of methamphetamine, unlawful carry of a firearm
- Michael Jordan Walker- prostitution
- Erike Goode – prostitution
- Rusty Reeves – prostitution
- Nicholas Shawn Ingram – solicitation of prostitution, and a pending charge of possession of methamphetamine
- Matthew Ryan Scharlau – solicitation of prostitution
- Alejandro Rodriguez-Perez – solicitation of prostitution
- Jeremy Daniel Kneisley – solicitation of prostitution
- William Michael Young – solicitation of prostitution
- Usher Christian Dickens – solicitation of prostitution
According to the release, Firebaugh and Roker took one of the females to a location.
At the time they were taken into custody, investigators found a 10-month-old child in the vehicle belonging to Firebaugh.
Heroin, methamphetamine and a firearm were also found in a backpack in the vehicle.
“Due to Annie Firebaugh being arrested for the above charges and placing her child at unreasonable risk of harm affecting the child’s life, physical health and safety, the minor child was placed into emergency protective custody,” according to the release.
On Wednesday, investigators conducted an operation targeting “Johns,” the individuals who are buyers of commercial sex.
“During this portion of the operation, an online ad was posted by investigators. Six male individuals responded to the ad and agreed to exchange a value of US currency for commercial sex acts,” sheriff’s office officials said. “These males individuals were then provided a location to meet an undercover officer where they provided US currency to the undercover officer. At this time, they were taken into custody and charged with Solicitation of Prostitution.”
One of the males brought methamphetamine to the location with him, and charges for possession of methamphetamine are pending at this time.