Chicago Sex Trafficking Ring: Authorities Arrest Nine Accused Of Forcing Minors Into Prostitution
Eight men and one woman were charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor and human trafficking Wednesday following an 18-month undercover investigation that broke open a sex trafficking ring in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Authorities described the “major” human sex trafficking operation run by Vice Lords and other South and West side gang members at a news conference Wednesday, according to the Sun-Times. The investigation, called “Operation Little Girl Lost,” uncovered a prostitution ring led by “vicious predators” who recruited girls as young as 12 on CTA trains and at local grocery stores.
"I've worked approximately 23 years in sheriff's department, the last 12 I've done child exploitation crimes and this is the worst with what we've seen, the beatings, the manipulation, the violence involved," said Cook County Sheriff's Dept. Vice Team Commander Mike Anton at the news conference, according to FOX Chicago News.
The investigation was the first in the nation to use state wiretaps to track the offenders running the sex trade, thanks to the new legal provision of the Illinois State Children’s Act, that permitted thousands of cell and landline calls to be recorded, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said at the conference, FOX reports. The resulting 35 page affidavit “pulls at [investigators’] heart strings,” Chicago Police superintendent Garry McCarthy said, according to FOX.
The affidavit details physical abuse including beatings, branding and tattooing, death threats and instances where victims were locked in car trunks for extended periods of time as punishment.
Investigators suspect that these arrests provide a window into a larger-scale crime ring with ties to gangs across Chicago. Seven of the eight men arrested have gang ties from the West and South Sides of Chicago: Sahura “Hollywood Allen, 26, Jaymes Hart, 25, Travis Creekmore, 31, Jerrell Creekmore, 21, Arthur Deshazor, 29, Vincent “Snake” Davis, 39 and Norman Hicks, 37, the Sun-Times reports.
“What we've noticed is gang members are loosely connected to each other and sell girls to each other," Alvarez said, according to FOX. "In one case, we saw where a 13 year old girl was sold from one pimp to another for $100.”
Also arrested in connection with the prostitution ring were Lenaris “Lil Daddy” Brown, 25, and Katrina Zaia, 24, of Evergreen Park. Investigators believe Zaia, who was romantically linked to Travis Creekmore, helped recruit young women and girls and arranged exchanges for them on websites like Craigslist or Backpage, the Sun-Times reports. Prosecutors say the girls were also forced to work the “tracks”--walking the streets in search of clients. But Alvarez asserted during the news conference that the appearance of voluntary solicitation doesn’t mean the victims were working willfully. according to the Sun-Times..
“These offenders first prey on their vulnerabilities such as poverty, homelessness or addiction and then force them into a violent and demeaning cycle of violence,” Alvarez said, according to the Sun-Times. “I hardly think that there’s an 11 or 12-year-old girl out there who is prostituting herself. Obviously she is being put on the street and sold and someone’s making money off of this.”
Travis Creekmore’s former home at 4626 S. Lake Park is believed to have been central to the prostitution ring, where neighbors reportedly saw women constantly entering and leaving the building, according to the affidavit. The building’s maintenence man told the Sun-Times that he saw women sprawled out throughout the home, and that Creekmore often made “the girls sleep on the porch,” even during cold weather. The document also reports that Creekmore’s mother, who lived in the home, charged the trafficking women with children $50 per day to watch them while they were forced to work.
The wiretaps were a key information source in the investigation, in conjunction with information from victims and tips, and included conversations discussing violence and threats directed at the victims. During a conversation with Creekmore, Hart allegedly said that any girl who reported him to the police would be “kidnapped, murdered and her body dumped in the river.” During another conversation, Hart allegedly said “You gotta beat on them hos man... Just f---- em all up and they gonna stay in love.”
Gang members involved in the ring are believed to have made thousands of dollars, working many women for up to 24 hours a day and pocketing all of their profits, FOX reports.
Since the investigation began, many of the victims have received counseling and changed their lives, assistant state’s attorney Lou Longhitano told the Sun-Times. Already he says there are “success stories,” and some teenagers freed from the crime ring have graduated high school.
WATCH FOX Chicago News’ coverage of the sex trafficking ring bust: