Three dozen Crips street gang members and two motel owners have been indicted for running a prostitution ring that targeted underage girls through social networking sites including MySpace, Craigslist, Twitter and Facebook, prosecutors said on Monday.
The U.S. District Court indictment, unsealed on Monday, alleges that several former rival factions of the gang worked together to recruit new prostitutes by targeting underage girls from broken homes.
Writing letters from prison as well as establishing contact using MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, the gang members gained control over the girls and then advertised them using Craigslist and Backpage.com, as well as more traditional methods, according to the indictment.
Adult women were also recruited, abused and traded among pimps, the indictment alleges.
I regard the kind of prostitution involved in this case, including the trafficking of children via the Internet, social networking sites and local businesses, as a form of modern-day slavery to which every available law enforcement resource will be applied, Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, said at a press conference to announce the indictments.
Duffy said investigators had rescued about 30 underage girls from the pimps, who took them on the road to Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Texas and Michigan and forced them to work.
The indictment also charges Vinod Patel, 60, and Hitesh Patel, 27, with being part of the conspiracy by providing a rooms at the Oceanside Travelodge motel, knowing they were being used for illegal activity.
According to the indictment, the rooms were isolated from the legitimate business clients and were sold to the gang members at a higher cost than the legitimate lodgers.
Prosecutors said the 38 defendants face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
The government is also seeking the forfeiture of the motel.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)