Federal authorities have arrested 46 men — including a teacher, a high school football coach, a youth pastor and a director of operations for a large state hospital network — in a North Texas sex trafficking sting operation.
“Thwarting sex trafficking is one of our agency’s top priorities, one that every law enforcement office that has a role on the HSI Dallas led North Texas Trafficking Task Force takes very seriously,” Lester R. Hayes Jr., HSI Dallas Special Agent in Charge, said in a press release. “By targeting those involved in this crime, we hope to disrupt this activity and provide assistance to human trafficking victims by getting them connected to the advocates and resources they need.”
The operation involved 11 separate agencies and is the second major commercial sex sting operation in North Texas within recent months. Authorities have not released the names of any of the suspects, who now face up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Sex trafficking involves commercial sex acts that are induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or where the person forced into the act is 17 or younger, according to Texas state officials.
“The victims of these heinous crimes are treated like commodities, used to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible,” Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said in the statement. “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 SO (@tarrantcountyso) January 20, 2023
Texas has been on the front lines in the battle to break up trafficking networks. Last summer, authorities located 70 missing children following a three-week operation in West Texas.
State officials say that the pandemic lockdowns contributed to a surge in child sex trafficking.
“In 2020, when many businesses and industries slowed down due to COVID-19, human trafficking flourished,” according to the Texas Attorney General’s office. “In 2020, 1.6 million online commercial sex advertisements were posted in Texas, and 223,910 of those are believed to have sold children.”
The state’s Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section (HTTOC) has partnered with numerous law enforcement agencies to resolve 20 cases, resulting in 463 years in prison sentences for human trafficking.
HTTOC is currently involved in 18 human trafficking cases and 12 ongoing investigations.