Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Cuyahoga County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis, and Independence Police Chief Michael Kilbane announced the formation of a new task force that will work to fight human trafficking in northeast Ohio.
The Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, which is part of the Ohio Attorney General’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, is being led by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department and includes representatives from each of the aforementioned local and federal agencies.
The task force, which recently began operations, will investigate incidents of human trafficking primarily in Cuyahoga County.
Investigators have already opened a number of investigations, and the task force has rescued nine human trafficking victims since its formation. An additional 56 victims have been identified as possibly being involved in sex trafficking.
Among those rescued by the task force include a 14-year-old girl who investigators found was being advertised on the internet for sex. Three suspects are now facing felony human trafficking charges related to that case, and dozens of other suspects face possible felony charges as the task force continues their open investigations.
“Human trafficking is a vile crime, and I’m confident that this task force will make a difference in the lives of many more victims who are currently enslaved by traffickers in northeast Ohio,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Human traffickers may think that their crimes will go unnoticed, but through this partnership of state, local, and federal authorities, traffickers will be exposed and held accountable for their actions.”
“Our mission in setting up the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force is to identify and recover victims, to prosecute those who perpetrate this crime, and to put an end to this crime,” said Sheriff Pinkney.
“The HSI approach to human trafficking investigations is a simple but highly effective one: We start with the victim and work our way backwards,” said Steve Francis, acting special agent in charge of HSI Detroit, which covers Michigan and Ohio. “We look forward to working with our law enforcement and community partners to eradicate human trafficking in Ohio and anywhere else it exists.”
“Human trafficking is a heinous offense that preys on some of the most vulnerable victims in society,” said Independence Police Chief Kilbane. “The Independence Police Department would like to thank Attorney General DeWine for dedicating the resources to combat this crime and give a much needed voice to its victims. Our department is proud to be part of this groundbreaking initiative, and we look forward to making a large impact on human trafficking in Ohio.”
Established in 1986, the Attorney General’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC) assists local law enforcement agencies in combating organized crime and corrupt activities through the creation of multi-jurisdictional task forces. The commission also provides task forces with additional resources such as specialized equipment, audio/video technical expertise, and assistance from OOCIC criminal intelligence analysts.
Investigators on the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force will work full-time on human trafficking cases, and an investigator will be on-call 24/7 to respond to situations where a victim needs help.
Anyone wishing to seek help or report activity that may be related to human trafficking in Cuyahoga County can call the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office at 216-443-6085.
Common warning signs that a person is being trafficked include signs of physical abuse and starvation; a person who does not have any identification documents, seems to be controlled, is rarely alone, and is kept away from family and friends; has a “boyfriend” who is much older; runs away from home; talks about traveling to other cities; moves often; has a tattoo that may be a trafficker’s branding; appears to live at or near a workplace; works with a large group of people in a small space; works long hours and is not free to leave.