Several victims involved in a Springfield area prostitution and human trafficking raid two weeks ago are suspected of being brought to the country illegally. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley tells Missourinet thirteen businesses and five residences were busted in what is believed to be the largest trafficking sting in the state’s history. He says the southwest Missouri raids are a small part of a very large international crime operation.
“We do believe that it’s very possible that many of the folks who were brought to this country as part of this ring as victims were perhaps brought here illegally. Through no fault of their own, that’s part of what this trafficking ring does,” says Hawley.
Hawley would not disclose how many buyers, traffickers, prostitutes and victims are involved in the investigation. Similar law enforcement stings were also done the same day in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.
“We are continuing to pursue the various trails and legs and arms of the organization, which is quite extensive. We do think that this trafficking ring is potentially tied to an Asian organized crime syndicate,” he says.
He says several of the businesses targeted, which were Asian massage parlors, advertised their services on Backpage.com.
“Of the thirteen, a large majority, I think nine or ten of them, were operating without licenses, as required by Missouri law. We have filed motions to shut down all the businesses that had no licenses to shut them down completely,” says Hawley.
He says the use of Missouri’s consumer protection laws were critical in prompting the law enforcement sting. Missouri is the first state in the nation to go after traffickers by using consumer protection laws. In April, the attorney general announced that his office would use the laws to look for suspected cases of human trafficking.