DALLAS — Forty-six people have been arrested in connection with a commercial sex sting across North Texas, including a volunteer firefighter, youth pastor, high school teacher, football coach and the director of operations for a large hospital network, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced.
Homeland Security Investigation's Dallas office said undercover agents posted ads offering sex on multiple websites where "thousands of ads are posted every single day in the DFW area," according to John Perez, Supervisory Special Agent for HSI Dallas.
Perez also oversees the North Texas Trafficking Task Force.
The sting operated out of hotels in Southlake's Town Square and near Stonebriar Centre in Frisco.
"More of the affluent areas of the DFW metroplex," Perez said. "Where there’s money there’s definitely commercial sex happening and sex trafficking."
"There are a lot of misconceptions about the people that consume this. It’s people you think are family men. Men of the cloth, if you will. There was a youth pastor arrested, a high school teacher that was a football coach. People in positions that we trust our children and our families with," Perez said.
The operation also coincided with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign – a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public, law enforcement and other industry partner to recognize the indicator of human trafficking and how to respond to those cases.
“Thwarting sex trafficking is one of our agency’s top priorities, one that every law enforcement office that has a role on the HSDI Dallas led North Texas Trafficking Task Force takes very seriously,” HIS Dallas Special Agent in Charge Lester R. Hayes said in a news release.
“By targeting those involved in this crime, we hope disrupt this activity and provide assistance to human trafficking victims by getting them connection to the advocated and resources they need,” Hayes continued.
Several law enforcement agencies were involved in the operation: the Arlington Police Department, Colleyville Police Department, Collin County Sheriff’s Department, Dallas Police Department, Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, Frisco Police Department, Irving Police Department, Midlothian Police Department and the Tarrant County Human Trafficking Task Force.
“Those who traffic victims are the scourge of the earth, and we will continue to target those responsible for the trafficking and those who solicit sex from them,” Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said in a news release.
Perez said traffickers often prey on vulnerable young women.
"These victims have rarely had something nice, so when the trafficker gives them designer clothes or takes them to a fancy dinner - even little things like getting your hair done or your nails done - they get pampered and that's part of the grooming process," Perez said. "They exploit those vulnerabilities."
Once the trafficked women don't meet a quota set by their trafficker, they are violently attacked.
"They could be raped, or held without food and water for days until they meet this quota," Perez said.
Anyone with information about suspected traffickers or trafficking victims are asked to contact the Homeland Security Investigations tip line at 1-866-DHS-2423.
Last week, the Dallas Police Department said its Special Investigation Division ran an operation targeting online sex trafficking in the city and Collin County, which led to the arrest of these 23 people for Solicitation of Prostitution.
“The harm caused by sex trafficking in our society cannot be overstated,” Frisco Police Chief David Shilson said. “We are united in bringing to justice those who would exploit vulnerable members of our community.”
If you would like to learn more about HSI’s mission to combat human trafficking in your community, click here or visit @HSI_Dallas on Twitter.