News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, June 26, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga.-- Experts say child sex trafficking continues to grow into a major problem in cities around the country. Agents with the FBI, along with local officers, are cracking down.
Earlier this month, agents set out on the streets of Augusta, looking for child sex trafficking, and instead, they found prostitution.
Agents in dozens of states are getting tough on child sex trafficking in Operation Cross Country.
"The FBI, since 2003, has operated an Innocence Lost Initiative," explained Jim Harrison, supervisory agent in charge for the FBI. "Periodically we will go around and conduct nationwide roundups or sting operations to try and identify any exploitation of children in terms of prostitution or human trafficking."
FBI agents captured video earlier this month during stings around Atlanta and other cities around the country. Closer to home, agents in Augusta arrested four men. Tyler Jerome Wright, Wayne Tyrone Brown Jr., Hamza Abdul Vassar and Terrance Devon Luke are all charged with pimping, disorderly conduct prostitution or promoting prostitution.
"We operate under the Atlanta division, and in this particular case, the Atlanta division reported the arrests of five pimps and four of them were here in Augusta," Harrison said.
While no exploited children were found in the Augusta area, experts say that doesn't mean it's not happening.
"I think it's safe to say that it happens everywhere. No place is immune from it, and we do all we can to tackle those issues here in Augusta," Harrison said.
Nationwide, 79 juveniles were recovered in the operation and more than 100 pimps were arrested. Working undercover, they recovered money while making arrest after arrest.
"You could define it as any time that anybody's going to utilize an underage person or coerce them or force them into doing something that they're not supposed to be doing," said Harrison on the definition of child sex trafficking.
Six women were also arrested in the area. Krystyne Haggadone, Ashley Believeau, Connie Brantley, Sarah Lindner, Erica Locklear and Ahsar Mowatt are all charged with prostitution, or disorderly conduct-prostitution. Some of the women are from Macon, others are from parts of North Carolina.
"We're the same as everyone else. It's a growing problem, and it's something we all keep our eye on," Harrison said. "We handle these matters aggressively."
All 10 of the local arrests were for either prostitution or pimping, not child sex trafficking. Both misdemeanor pimping and prostitution charges can face up to one year behind bars.
Last year Georgia beefed up its child trafficking laws, and now offenders can face anywhere from five to 30 years, depending on the victim's age.