Santa Clara County DA's office busts alleged Bay Area sex trafficking ring

Investigators used wiretapping to identify 30,000 texts and calls for evidence - a first for a sex trafficking case in the county.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Santa Clara Co. DA's office busts alleged sex trafficking ring
An alleged human trafficking ring that spanned across the Bay Area was taken down by a joint operation lead by the Santa Clara Co. DA's office.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Two years, multiple agencies, nine arrests and most importantly, 18 rescues.

An alleged human trafficking ring that spanned several Bay Area cities, most in Santa Clara County, was taken down by a joint operation lead by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office.

"It represents the future of HT, Human Trafficking Investigations, here in the state," Santa Clara County District Attorney Patrick Vanier said. "It was a proactive investigation in which this organization was identified. It was thoroughly investigated over the last two years. And it resulted in the identification of these victims as well as traffickers."

All nine of alleged traffickers who come from across California appeared in court Tuesday, bail ranging from the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in this case.

Six other suspects have been identified as being part of this, but they have not been arrested yet according to the DA's office.

Arraignment was postponed for two weeks and the defendants' attorneys say they intend to fight the charges.

MORE: Several arrested, victims rescued in Bay Area for alleged human trafficking, officials say

"They're in shock," Emilio Dorame-Martinez said. "They're denying all the allegations. If you really want to go into it, there's been a lot of things in this case that have already been reviewed that we have to go a little further in. You can enjoy the show, but there's going to be a lot of law in motions done that I don't know if the government is going to like it."

The DA's office says two of the accused were arrested by San Jose police in 2021 and charged with running illegal brothels at homes and apartments; they were released and remained out on bail where the operation is said to have continued.

The group allegedly used various hotels in San Jose, Gilroy, Hayward and San Leandro where the women were forced to have sex for money.

Investigators used wiretapping of cellphones to identify 30,000 text messages and calls for evidence - a first for a human trafficking case in Santa Clara County.

"It provides independent corroboration for what the victims told us what happened to them," Vanier said. "And it takes the onus off the victims, so that the burden isn't upon them necessarily to be able to tell their story in court. But, we have recordings of what happened to them that we will introduce in the future."

The DA's office said they identified 18 survivors, including a juvenile, but wiretap revealed 30 total women that were taken from outside the country to be part of the human trafficking.

VIDEO: Neighbors' action sparks rescue of women from suspected residential brothels in SJ

Four possible sex trafficking victims have been rescued in San Jose and two men suspected of running the brothels are in custody.

It was part of the investigation deemed as Operation Phoenix, in the hopes that these victims are on their way to freedom and recovery after a life the DA's office deemed as slavery.

Community Solutions is just one of three nonprofit organizations in the South Bay that makes sure human trafficking victims can access confidential and free support they need to feel safe.

Due to safety reasons, they could not disclose whether their organization was helping the 18 victims in this particular case.

Senior Division Director Perla Flores said usually the first steps in helping victims is finding immediate shelter.

"They don't have a house to go to or perhaps it's not safe for them to go to that home. So a lot of times what they need in the short term is just a better understanding of what's going on, ensuring that they're not in any kind of trouble. That they're being seen as a potential victim of a crime and that they have certain rights," Flores said.

Flores says some traffickers give misinformation to victims that often leads to distrust when help is being offered.

MORE: Oakland church helps sex workers get off streets and back home

"Certainly a lot of the survivors are not going to trust us even though we explain we're not part of law enforcement, we're a community based organization. That their conversations with us are confidential," Flores said.

Flores says every survivor is assigned an advocate and that person will link them to support resources for three to five years.

"And we want to ensure that when we support someone, that we don't just address that crisis and then leave them vulnerable again, that we're really addressing all the different vulnerabilities that led to that person being exploited," Flores said.

With any given year, the organization helps 150 human trafficking victims.

"There's a lot of sensationalism around human trafficking and it's so important to know it happens every day, that happens here in our backyards and to know how we can be upstanders instead of bystanders. We've had so many individuals that are referred to services identified by neighbors or community member that saw something and felt suspicious and actually took the time to do something about it," Flores said.

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