SALT LAKE CITY — Even though a new report showed Utah had no trafficking cases prosecuted in federal court last year, but state investigators say there’s a reason for that.
The Utah Attorney General‘s SECURE Strike Force is the main police agency dealing with human trafficking in Utah. The team has investigated and prosecuted dozens of cases over the years, including a major sting operation earlier this month.
Those on the front lines say there’s now almost no city or Utah community immune from human trafficking.
“It is everywhere! We have had cases from small town Brigham City, Bountiful just recently, throughout the state, it does happen everywhere,” said Brendan Call with the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
SECUREs latest operation resulted in the arrest of 49-year-old Michael Joe Ricks. Prosecutors say he was living a quiet, suburban life in Bountiful by day. But unbeknownst to nearly everyone, Ricks was also, allegedly, operating a prostitution ring.
Prosecutors say Ricks would meet younger girls online, supply them with narcotics, then pimp them out to paying customers, with Ricks keeping most of the cash.
“We do so many of these cases now that I think we do have a reputation of knowing what we’re doing and doing them well," Call said.
SECURE was formed in 2009 to investigate crimes within Utah‘s immigrant communities and human trafficking.
Call says many cases which start out dealing with guns, drugs and fraud lead to human trafficking. In particular, those taking advantage of younger, addicted and vulnerable women.
Most human trafficking cases, including the Ricks sting, are prosecuted at the state level, but SECURE also has federal resources available.
“We do have federal partners, full-time on the task force, we do have attorneys that are cross deputized, they’re special assistant US attorney‘s. So we do have the ability to take some cases federal,” added Call.
Call says it really doesn’t matter who gets the credit or the prosecution, the bottom line is helping those in dire straits.
“It’s very rewarding knowing that you’re getting a victim out of a really awful, violent, abusive, situation. Getting them the help they need with services, therapy, housing, whatever it may be that they’re in need of and just helping them get back to a somewhat normal life and getting the bad guys off the streets.”
Ricks, who faces multiple felony charges, including human trafficking, remains behind bars since his arrest three weeks ago.