Sex trafficking moves toward St. Louis

10:09 PM, May 22, 2013   |    comments
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By Farrah Fazal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSDK) - The non-descript hotel room is full of men and a few women. One of them is young and blonde.

"I've been talking dirty to you all day long," she said to the person on the other end of the phone.

A man in the room said, "Like a spider web, just lay in wait, wait for them to call you."

The man is a sergeant in the Kansas City Police Department. The blonde is his undercover officer. In a space of seconds, they'll lure someone into the hotel room, and rush into arrest them. The johns are the ones who walk into this hotel sting. They're not the targets.

"We end up running into trafficking victims," said Sgt. Brad Dumit.

These stings are leading Dumit and his undercover to international sex trafficking victims trapped in Kansas City.

Dumit got a call from a woman from El Salvador last week.

"She was afraid to be deported, but she wanted to report some info about smuggling," he said.

The woman doesn't trust the cops yet. Dumit understands why. She feels she has a lot to lose.

"We're not interested in deporting someone, we're interested in taking out the bad guy," said Dumit.

Kansas City police officers have a track record of tracking down the human traffickers. One of their biggest cases started in a hotel room sting.

"We had one of these girls show up here," he said. It was called China Rose. The traffickers flew the women from China into the U.S. They drove them to Kansas City. Then they forced and coerced some of them into having sex with customers at several massage parlors.

The traffickers were always watching them.

NewsChannel 5 obtained exclusive pictures of the massage parlors the women were subjected to.

"There were workers living inside the massage parlors locked inside at night, they had them live and sleep in the same room they were performing the massages sexual acts," said Cynthia Cordes, the federal prosecutor who took the traffickers to court.

Some of the women were stashed in homes across the area. They were sold on the internet. The traffickers collected the money and laundered it. The hell lasted for months for some of the victims before federal agents came to rescue them.

The relief Cordes sees on the faces of the victims when they are rescued is the reason she keeps fighting for them day in and day out.

"These cases are the worst of the worst, they're the most disturbing," said Cordes.

She has a reputation. She's tough on traffickers, gentle on victims, she doesn't give up and she always thinks out of the box. She's prosecuted more human trafficking cases than any other prosecutor in the country.

"We take a victim centered approach, they are not arrested, put in handcuffs, and treated like a criminal," said Cordes. Her battle against human traffickers started eight years ago.

"The initial thought was human trafficking probably isn't in Kansas City, Mo.," she said.

Her Human Trafficking Project uncovered an underground network in her backyard. The operators at the highest levels of the trafficking rings were buying, selling forcing coercing victims from Mexico, Central America, and other countries.

"All of the victims I've seen are looking for a better life. When they get here, they realize they have a debt to pay," said Cordes. It's a debt they can never pay off. She said some of the human trafficking rings in Kansas City are connected to the drug cartels.

Human trafficking is the second biggest money maker for the Mexican drug cartels. The cartels use the victims as mules. They'll use the victims over and over again. Trafficking victims are easy to hide and hard to find.

Trafficking rings don't stay in one area. They coerce the victims by moving them.

"We see our rings going from Kansas City to St. Louis to Chicago back to St. Louis to Kansas City," said Cordes.

KCPD has a secret arsenal in their search for trafficking victims.

His name is Officer Octavio Villalobos. He can walk the walk and talk the talk with the immigrants who may be the information link between the cop and the victims.

"When we don't take the time to learn another language or train officers, we end up losing out on potential information on something as big as sex trafficking," said Villalobos.

Every officer on the police force can enroll in a 12-week Spanish immersion. They go to Mexico to master the language before they become bilingual behind the badge.

The migrants and the sex trafficking victims dream the same dream, the American dream. They want to be in the United States legally.

Cordes gives them a shot at it when victims help her put the traffickers away. They're able to apply for visas the government sets aside for them.

For every victim Cordes saves, hundreds, thousands more are suffering in silence on the streets of St. Louis and Kansas City until they want into a hotel sting that could be their salvation.



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