FBI Joins Forces with Federal, State, Local Law Enforcement to Target Commercial Child Sex Trafficking in Western Pa.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Over the past week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation-Pittsburgh Division, together with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, took part in Operation Cross Country IX, a national effort spearheaded by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The initiative, now in its ninth year, targets the criminal enterprises responsible for the commercial sex trafficking of children.

“Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “As a result of the FBI’s outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system. The Department of Justice will continue to aggressively and persistently fight this heinous crime, and to hold its perpetrators accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Operation Cross Country IX is the largest in the nine-year history of the initiative, with 53 FBI field offices and 73 Child Exploitation Task Forces, which include federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, taking part in the operation in 135 cities across America. Locally, FBI Pittsburgh coordinated efforts in the City of Pittsburgh, Millcreek Township, City of Erie, Green Tree Borough, and the City of Greensburg in Pennsylvania, as well as the City of Wheeling in West Virginia.

Nationwide, more than 500 law enforcement officials, including investigators and officers from federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations, conducted both “in-call” and “out-call” operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and in other areas known to be frequented by both prostitutes, sex-traffickers, and their customers.

As a result of this year’s nationwide operation, 149 victims were recovered; the youngest victim was 12 years old. Ninety victim specialists provided on-scene direct services to the victims of sex trafficking, while 105 child victims received on-site direct services, which may have included crisis intervention and resources for basic needs like medical, food, clothing, and shelter. Due to the size of the operation, FBI victim specialists coordinated with local law enforcement victim advocates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who provided additional support to the victims.

Locally, the Operation led to 25 arrests on state charges, including the arrests of two (2) pimps. In addition, three (3) potential adult human trafficking victims were rescued. 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.

“This year’s operation has shown us, once again, that human trafficking and child prostitution continues to plague communities across the country,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott S. Smith of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office. “We are committed to assisting the victims of these atrocious crimes and bringing those responsible for committing them to justice.”

“Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery, and many victims are hiding in plain and painful sight,” said United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David J. Hickton. “Operations like this demonstrate law enforcement’s determination to save lives, ensure freedom and restore dignity to women, men and children in virtually every corner of the country.”

“Initiatives like Operation Cross Country shine a much needed spotlight on criminals that prey on vulnerable young children,” said United States Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia William J. Ihlenfeld, II. “As law enforcement officers, our primary focus is on keeping communities safe. By working together, we can work to ensure that children are not treated as commodities for financial profit. I applaud this collaborative effort to rescue victims of human trafficking and to hold offenders accountable.”

“Operation Cross Country continues to show us that child sex trafficking is a major problem,” Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure those who seek to exploit children are brought to justice.”

“Targeting and harming America’s children through commercial sex trafficking is a horrible crime with serious consequences for our community,” said a representative from Fayette County District Attorney Jack R. Heneks, Jr.’s Office. “The Fayette County District Attorney’s Office is proud to team with our law enforcement partners in the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to proactively attack this criminal activity “Head-On”.”

“Through the cooperative efforts and expertise of federal and local law enforcement partners, those who commit these atrocious crimes are being brought to justice while victims are getting much needed assistance,” said Special Agent in Charge John Kelleghan of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, “HSI will continue to support these human trafficking operations and all investigative work to stop this crime against society.”

“The Pennsylvania State Police are fully supportive of our law enforcement partners in this national initiative,” said Sergeant Mark M. Zaleski of the Pennsylvania State Police. “This initiative brings to light the scourge of those who may attempt to victimize our children. Those identified will be investigated and aggressively prosecuted.”

“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 Chief Cameron McLay of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

“We are extremely appreciative for the opportunity to partner with the FBI and area law enforcement organizations to accomplish the goal of identifying and arresting these individuals who commit these terrible acts,” said Chief Deputy Kevin Kraus of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office.

“In June 2015, I had the opportunity to attend the White House Convening on Trafficking and Child Welfare, where “survivors” of human trafficking spoke of their experiences in the trafficking trade,” said Lt. Danny Swiger, Director, West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit. “There were two common themes presented by the survivors: they were sexually abused as children and they were runaways. This revelation has led us to increase our efforts and focus on addressing these two issues so that we may be able to prevent the children of West Virginia from becoming human trafficking victims.”

Hancock County, West Virginia Sheriff Ralph Fletcher emphasized the effectiveness of collaboration among federal and local law enforcement, specifically noting that the “professionalism exhibited by all agencies involved was exceptional.”

“We’re proud to partner with the FBI and provide support to both law enforcement and victim specialists in the field as they work to locate and recover survivors of child sex trafficking,” said Linda Krieg, Acting Chief Executive Officer of NCMEC. “The number of children recovered and pimps arrested in this year’s operation highlights the importance of these efforts today and every day in protecting our children from exploitation.”

Operation Cross Country is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost national initiative, which began in 2003. Since the program’s inception, more than 4800 children have been rescued from underage prostitution and prosecutors have obtained more than 2000 convictions, including at least 15 that have resulted in life sentences. For additional information on Operation Cross Country IX and the Innocence Lost initiative, please visit www.fbi.gov.

Locally, representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Pennsylvania; United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of West Virginia; Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, Child Predator Section; Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office; Erie County District Attorney’s Office; Fayette County District Attorney’s Office; City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police; Moon Township Police Department; Ross Township Police Department; Green Tree Borough Police Department; City of Greensburg Police Department; Allegheny County Police Department; Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office; Millcreek Township Police Department; Pennsylvania State Police; U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, Western District of Pennsylvania; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Northern District of West Virginia Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force, including the West Virginia State Police, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, and the Wheeling Police Department took part in Operation Cross Country IX.

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