21 arrested in human trafficking rescue operation in Utah County

Posted at 11:49 AM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 19:15:37-04

UTAH COUNTY, Utah — A multi-agency operation led to the arrest of 21 people on human trafficking and drug-related charges in Utah County last month.

Three people were rescued during the operation, including two women and an 18-year-old man who had immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador.

"He had met some people that he thought were to help him to get him settled, to help him with a place to stay until he found a job and those were the people that ended up trafficking him," said Sgt. Elyse Hines, Utah County Sheriff's Office Special Victims Unit.

Among the people arrested, some were men traveling to meet children for sex, including one suspect who had possession ropes, sex toys and lingerie in his possession when taken into custody.

Lt. Jason Randall, with the Utah County Sheriff's Office Investigations bureau says one of those suspects came from Wyoming to Utah to meet up with a 13-year-old girl. Lt. Randall says he had ropes, sex toys and lingerie in his possession when taken into custody.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we have saved multiple other child victims because this, this man is a perpetrator and he showed up with the intent of doing harm to a 13-year-old girl," said Lt. Randall.

According to numbers from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Utah has had 1,413 contacts since 2007.  This includes phone calls, texts or even e-mails received by the NHTH that reference the state of Utah.

Of those more than 1,400 contacts, there have been 401 cases of human trafficking, as of latest numbers provided by NHTH at the end of 2020.

In 2020, according to the NHTH website, there were 64 reported cases of human trafficking.  42 of those were sex trafficking cases.

While Lt. Randall says this was an incredibly successful operation, he says this isn't the tip of the iceberg.

"One of the reasons we wanted to do this is to let those victims know that there are answers, there are solutions," said Lt. Randall.

Following the arrests, a forensic examination of cell phones taken as evidence identified other potential victims and traffickers, along with a witness currently cooperating in another human trafficking case being investigated by Unified Police Department.

Ten agencies, including the Utah County Sheriff's Office, Homeland Security and police departments in numerous cities participated in the operation that ran from Feb. 14-17.

Lt. Randall says they have four more operations, like this one, planned through the end of the year.