SALT LAKE CITY - Formal charges were filed Thursday in the case of alleged human trafficking after a raid at multiple locations across Salt Lake County last week.
On Thursday, Nov. 29, a team of federal, state and local agents teamed up to take down the suspected prostitution ring. They say the suspects and alleged victims appear to be from Mexico and many are in the United States illegally.
In the raid by the Utah Attorney General's SECURE Strike Force, agents arrested 29-year-old Luis Daniel Arano-Hernandez, 42-year-old Manuel Zapata-Sanchez and 24-year-old David Ramirez-Jimenez. They believe Arano-Hernandez was the ringleader of the operation.
In court documents filed Thursday, Arano-Hernandez and the other suspects where charged with multiple felonies, including aggravated human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Agents also found 14 women and girls, some as young as 14 years old, who were allegedly lured in and forced to work as prostitutes.
"My concern here is these are very young women who are striving to make a living, some of them have young kids, they're in the country illegally and they're being taken advantage of," said Kirk Torgensen with the Utah Attorney General's Office.
Agents say the victims essentially told the same story; they were recruited into prostitution, usually by Arano-Hernandez, and forced to remain in the business through coercion and/or force - threatening to harm the girl or her family and threatening to have her deported.
According to charges, one alleged victim told Arano-Hernandez she was only 17. He allegedly then arranged for and forced her to get a fake ID listing her age as 18. The suspect then allegedly posted pictures of the underage girl on his online advertisements.
Investigators say the customers paid attention to those younger girls.
"And we know for a fact some of them went there looking for very young girls," Torgensen said.
Agents say they have made contact with some of the regular customers of the alleged rings.
SECURE agents take down suspected human trafficking ring