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Human trafficking sting operation nets 15 arrests in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Fifteen suspects were arrested recently after state and federal agencies conducted a joint operation targeting sex traffickers.

Assistant Chief Deputy Wesley Richardson with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office shared details of the operation last week during a televised press conference.

“The suspects in this case targeted and solicited individuals online through chat rooms, social media and other sites, and they agreed to pay to engage in sexual acts with individuals that they believed to be children,” Richardson said. “Furthermore, these suspects then traveled to designated locations to engage in these unlawful sexual acts.”

According to WSFA, those arrested were as young as 22, and as old as 50, and included an Alabama corrections officer who worked at the Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery County. 

All 15 were held on at least a $500,000 bond, and charged with three crimes: traveling to meet a child for an unlawful sex act, a Class A felony; electronic solicitation of a child, a Class B felony; and attempted human trafficking, a Class B felony. Class A felonies are punishable by 10 years-to-life in prison, whereas Class B felonies are punishable by two to 20 years of imprisonment.

In a plea to parents, Richardson urged for children’s online activity to be more closely monitored. All 15 suspects allegedly first made contact with victim decoys through online means.

“To the parents watching today, please review and monitor what your children are doing online, and who they are talking to,” he said. 

“You would not leave your front door wide open for anyone to walk through; your child’s phone, if unmonitored, is an open door to their life. To the criminals who may be watching, I want you to know that the next time you go online to prey on a child, you just might be talking to one of us.”

The joint sting operation was a collaboration between several state and federal agencies, including the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Montgomery Police Department, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Federal Marshals Service.

Daryl Bailey, district attorney for Montgomery County, said during the press conference the joint operation took months to plan, but was a success.

“The children of Montgomery are a little safer today because of the work of these law enforcement professionals that stand behind me,” he said. 

“I was able to witness firsthand the events that took place over this two-day operation, and I have never been more proud of the men and women of the sheriff’s office, the police department and the marshals service than I was those two days.”

Covenant Rescue Group, a non-profit founded by former Navy SEAL Jared Hudson to combat human trafficking, assisted with the operation by providing investigators training and expertise on how to identify those targeting potential victims online.

“This was one of our most successful operations to date,” Covenant Rescue Group posted on its Facebook page.  “We want to thank everyone who worked so hard to ensure a successful operation and ultimately a safer Montgomery.”

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said that while he couldn’t share specifics, such operations were likely to continue, and that it was paramount that if nothing else, law enforcement protects the most vulnerable of Alabamians.

“The message that we’re sending is that our kids are 50% of our population, and 100% of our future, and we’re protecting our future,” he said.

Human trafficking has increased in recent years in the United States, with the number of individuals prosecuted for human trafficking increasing by 84% from 2011 to 2020, per the latest annual human trafficking report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Alabama passed its first anti-human trafficking law in 2010, which made the crime of human trafficking a Class A felony. The following year, lawmakers approved the establishment of physical human trafficking hotlines at sites such as bus stops, hotels and airports.

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