A federal grand jury indicted 22 members and associates of a sex-trafficking gang and charged them for forcing underage girls into prostitution in eastern San Diego County on Thursday, the San Diego-based U.S. Attorney's Office, said in a statement. Nearly 100 young women and girls were reportedly involved in the interstate prostitution ring.
Federal prosecutors said that the accused lured the women and girls -- ranging in age from 12 to their mid-20s -- and promised them a luxurious lifestyle. They also resorted to violence if the girls tried to disobey them, reports said. The 19 men and three women were part of a gang called “Tycoons,” which was formed in 2008, and carried out a nationwide prostitution ring, primarily operating from Lemon Grove and Spring Valley.
“Victims of sex trafficking are young, just getting started in life,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, said in the statement. “They have hopes and dreams of being loved and having beautiful lives ahead of them.
“Gang members are exploiting these dreams and stealing the souls of children. They are crushing them with false promises that lead to physical and emotional abuse and sexual slavery.”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators, FBI agents and San Diego County Sheriff's Department detectives performed raids in Southern California, Arizona and Texas and arrested 15 people, the statement said. Eleven search warrants were served in San Diego; Hemet, California; Tucson, Arizona; and Austin, Texas. Seven alleged members of the group were already in state custody.
The complaint filed against the members of the group alleged that they used the Internet and social media to set up meetings in Arizona, Nevada, Kansas and Texas for the purpose of sex-trafficking, Reuters reported.
"Exploiting and harming America's children through sex trafficking is a serious crime with detrimental effects to the victims and our communities," FBI Special Agent in Charge, Eric S. Birnbaum, said in the statement. "The FBI will continue to collaborate with our law enforcement partners in cases like this and our Operation Cross Country initiative where we have rescued over 3,600 children from the grips of sex traffickers and hold them accountable."