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Multi-agency operation phoenix arrests nine human traffickers, rescues 18 victims

For release on November 7, 2023

Sean Webby
Public Communications Officer
(408) 209-8064

Multi-agency operation phoenix arrests nine human traffickers, rescues 18 victims

A sweeping human trafficking operation by multiple law enforcement agencies began with suspicious texts and ended late last week with the arrests of nine suspects, and the rescue of 18 victims, including one juvenile. The operation took down a Colombian-based sex trafficking ring that operated brothels from hotels in the South Bay. Six additional suspects remain at large. 

Operation Phoenix, named after the rescued human trafficking victims who are hopefully on their way to freedom and recovery, was conducted by a multi-agency contingent organized by the Law Enforcement Investigating Human Trafficking (LEIHT) Taskforce – a District Attorney led task force based in Santa Clara County and co-led with the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  It is one of the largest HT operations in the state and the first wiretap-based HT case in Santa Clara County’s history. Charging documents are available upon request and federal and local law enforcement are available for interviews.

The suspects are charged with crimes ranging from human trafficking, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, pimping, pandering, and money laundering. They face major prison time, if convicted. The investigation is ongoing and other subjects may be charged with additional crimes.

“Slavery was outlawed in this country in 1865. In 2023 we will not tolerate its despicable resurgence,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “This operation is a testament to the dedicated and determined federal, state, and local authorities who are speaking as one to say human beings are not chattel.”

The probe began in March 2022 when investigators became suspicious at the activity of a Colombian husband and wife who were previously charged with HT related crimes and were out on bail.  Investigators focused on approximately 30,000 text messages and calls to a single prostitution dispatch number.

Evidence showed that the number was being used to arrange “dates” between exploited sex workers and customers. Members of the task force learned that the traffickers had set up a bank of these dispatch phones for sex customers to schedule sex dates with victims at local hotels.

Sex trafficking victims were recruited from South America and Mexico and were kept working seven days a week in hotel rooms in San Jose and East Bay Area cities. The victims were not allowed to leave the hotel rooms without permission, kept under constant surveillance, and were threatened with having their families harmed if they disobeyed or tried to escape.

Traffickers used the ill-gotten and laundered proceeds to further a lavish lifestyle. During the investigation, officers seized over $200,000 in cash and froze assets including cryptocurrency. While law enforcement personnel have recovered 18 survivors, the wiretap revealed more than 30 victims.

The women are being provided specialized services including counseling, immediate and long-term medical care, housing assistance, and services related to economic sustainability from our Office and community-based organizations. One of the victims, a teenager from a South American country, was located on Thursday during the takedown of the operation. She was taken to the DA’s Children’s Advocacy Center for care. 

Agencies assisting in this investigation include, LEIHT, HSI (San Jose, Riverside, Miami, and Fresno offices), DA’s Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS San Francisco Field Office), FBI (Sacramento and San Francisco Divisions), Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, Santa Clara County Regional Auto Theft Task Force, Santa Clara Police Department, San Jose Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (San Francisco Field Office), Sacramento Police Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Alameda County Narcotics Task Force, Hayward Police Department, Gilroy Police Department, Sacramento Police Department, the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team, and the California Department of Justice (Special Operations Unit). 


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