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Human trafficking sting rescues 21 victims, nets 46 arrests

By Crystal Staley/Sebastian Kitchen

Frankfort, KY - On Wednesday, September 1, 2021, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that Operation United Front - a multistate human trafficking sting carried out Aug. 26 by 29 agencies across Kentucky - rescued 21 victims, including two minors, and yielded 46 arrests.

The 12-state human trafficking operation, led by the Missouri Attorney General's Office and Missouri Highway Patrol, is believed to be the first multistate operation of its kind.

Kentucky conducted four trafficking operations simultaneously in Bowling Green, Elizabethtown, McCracken County and Northern Kentucky. The Kentucky State Police (KSP) organized and led the commonwealth's effort. To read about those arrested and charged click here: KSP-Human-Trafficking-Arrests (PDF).

"Operation United Front is a great example of creating a better and safer Kentucky, one that is free of this hideous crime," Gov. Beshear said. "Thank you to all the law enforcement agencies and organizations involved for rescuing these victims and holding these heinous offenders accountable. Unfortunately, this crime is occurring in every county, in every community across the commonwealth, but we will keep fighting to make life better and safer for all Kentuckians, especially our children."

Officials in participating states rescued a total of 59 victims, providing needed medical services to 41, and arrested 102 suspects across the country in connection with human trafficking. Each state conducted its own operation simultaneously, while sharing information with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Attorney General's Office.


Prior to the operation, Missouri offered training and information about how to conduct these operations to participating states.

"Operation United Front was a success because of the hard work and dedication of all law enforcement professionals working together," said KSP Commissioner Phillip Burnett Jr. "This sends a message to human traffickers across the country that their actions will not be tolerated. We will be vigilant in finding those who prey upon our most vulnerable, especially our children. While we as law enforcement are responsible for investigating the cases and arresting the individuals involved, there is a whole other dynamic to these cases and that is the care provided by the victim services community."

In addition to KSP, several Kentucky agencies supported the commonwealth's efforts in Operation United Front contributing to the overall success.

These agencies include: Anderson County Sheriff's Office; Boone County Sheriff's Office; Bowling Green Police Department; Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport Police Department; Department of Homeland Security; Elizabethtown Police Department; Florence Police Department; Grayson County Sheriff's Office; Greater Hardin County Drug Task Force; Hart County Sheriff's Office; Homeland Security Intelligence; Homeland Security Investigations, Louisville; Kenton County Police Department; Kentucky Office of the Attorney General; LaRue County Sheriff's Office; Lawrenceburg Police Department; Marshall County Sheriff's Office; McCracken County Police Department; Nelson County Sheriff's Office; Paducah Police Department; Radcliff Police Department; U.S. Secret Service; Shepherdsville Police Department; Simpson County Sheriff's Office; South Central Kentucky Drug Task Force; Warren County Drug Task Force; and Western Kentucky University Police Department.

Additional organizations provided victim support services including medical, housing, food and other needed services. Among the organizations providing aid were Barren County Area Child Advocacy Center, Catholic Charities, Department for Community Based Services, Kentucky State Police Victim Advocates, Northern Kentucky Children Advocacy Center, Refuge for Women, Southeast Christian Church, Salvation Army and Salvation Army of Cincinnati.

"The unique part of Operation United Front is that we utilized a victim-centered approach," says Detective Rugina Lunce, KSP Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator. "All agencies involved worked together to provide victims with the help they need to become survivors with a chance for a fresh start."

The Kentucky Office of Attorney General's Department of Criminal Investigations and Human Trafficking Investigation Unit led the operation in McCracken County and supported operations in Warren County.

"We know that human trafficking transcends county and state lines, and multistate efforts like Operation United Front are essential to addressing the human trafficking crisis in our communities," said Attorney General Daniel Cameron. "Every arrest made leads to one less trafficker on our streets and sends a message that we will not allow any person to exploit another through labor and sex trafficking. I'm incredibly grateful for the collaboration and for the partnerships exhibited throughout this operation, and I extend my sincere thanks to law enforcement across Kentucky who worked tirelessly to carry out Operation United Front."

Across the country, the following agencies participated in or conducted separate state level operations: Missouri Attorney General's Office; Missouri State Highway Patrol; Iowa Department of Public Safety; Kentucky Attorney General's Office; Kentucky State Police; Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; Nashville Metropolitan Police Department; Nebraska State Patrol; Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force; North Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation; Oklahoma City Police Department; Tulsa Police Department; South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Texas Attorney General's Office; Texas Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance Task Force; Round Rock Police Department; Austin Police Department; Homeland Security Investigations; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Results from Operation United Front by State:
  • Missouri: Two arrests made, four victims rescued
  • Illinois: Three arrests made, one victim rescued
  • Iowa: Three arrests made, 10 victims rescued
  • Kentucky: 46 arrests made, 21 victims rescued (including two minor victims)
  • Minnesota: Three arrests made, eight victims rescued
  • Nebraska: Seven arrests made
  • North Dakota: Three arrests made, six victims rescued
  • Oklahoma: 13 arrests made, one victim rescued
  • Tennessee: Six arrests made, two victims rescued
  • Texas: Two arrests made, four victims rescued
  • Wisconsin: Five arrests made
  • South Dakota previously conducted a weeklong operation during the Sturgis Biker Rally, and arrested nine individuals.
View statements from more law enforcement agencies here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/quote.jpg?sfvrsn=56f7f21c_2.

Gov. Beshear has made fighting human trafficking a core mission during his time in elected office.

As attorney general, Beshear's office established itself as the leading agency in Kentucky's fight against human trafficking. He created the Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention and Prosecution, assigned staff to assist local law enforcement with resources in an effort to resolve human trafficking complaints and trained thousands of individuals statewide.

The Office of the Attorney General also arrested a historic level of child predators during Beshear's term. He also created the Survivor's Council, which provided a way for survivors of violent crimes, including human trafficking, to advise and assist the office on matters related to victims of crime.

In 2020, Gov. Beshear announced $37 million in grant funding from the Victims of Crime Act program, known as VOCA, to 133 crime victim service providers in Kentucky to respond to the emotional and physical needs of survivors and provide a much-deserved measure of safety and security. To learn more, see the full release.

In May 2021, Gov. Beshear announced a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will help the state address key findings of the University of Louisville (UofL) Human Trafficking Research Initiative's Project PIVOT: Prevention and Intervention for Victims of Trafficking, a two-year research project.

When Gov. Beshear served as Attorney General, his office collaborated with Project PIVOT on the research. Now that he is Governor, his administration is working to carry out the project's recommendations, which include the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) creating an advisory council; launching a human trafficking and child labor screening tool to identify high-risk children; and hiring a full-time child protection specialist.


This story was posted on 2021-09-01 14:44:21
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