Isle girls victims of prostitution ring
A federal crackdown results in 19 arrests around the country
At least two underage girls from Hawaii were among those recruited for a prostitution ring that shuffled victims between Honolulu and Detroit for nearly two years and advertised "escort services" on the Internet, federal authorities said yesterday.
Four Detroit men were charged in connection with the scheme -- one of four prostitution rings nationwide under investigation since 2003 as part of a federal program aimed at ending human trafficking and child prostitution in the United States.
The arrests of 19 people in Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in connection with the rings were announced yesterday at a Washington, D.C., news conference.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said more than 30 children -- some as young as 12 -- had been forced to have sex. All of the victims were American nationals, and some had been reported missing or had run away because they had been abused at home.
"Children, young girls, are vulnerable," Honolulu FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Goodwin said yesterday in a news conference outside the federal courthouse. "They fall victim to their situations. They're easily exploited."
Goodwin said the girls from Hawaii were between 14 and 16 years old when they were recruited. They are helping authorities, he said.
The men charged in connection with the ring are:
» Robert Lewis Young, a k a Lawrence Benjamin, Ronald McCree, "Blue Diamond" and "Blue": He was arrested in Las Vegas and indicted Thursday on two counts of sex trafficking of children; three counts of sex trafficking by "force, fraud and coercion"; one count of distributing child pornography; and other charges. The most serious offense, sex trafficking of children, is punishable by a maximum of 40 years in prison.
FBI Supervisor David Ego said Young was the mastermind of the ring and "not a newcomer" to prostitution operations.
» Jeffrey Errol McCoy, who was identified as Young's "associate": He was arrested in Honolulu on Thursday while in District Court on an unrelated theft charge.
» George Abro, who allegedly helped the ring with logistics: He was arrested in Detroit.
» Joe Awethe, who was arrested in Tucson, Ariz.: FBI officials said he was the ring's "strong arm" and provided security.
The federal arrests were unrelated to a state case earlier in the week in which two men were charged with sexual assault and promotion of prostitution in downtown Honolulu.
McCoy and Abro have been charged in Detroit on several prostitution, child pornography and money laundering counts. Charges against Awethe were not immediately available.
According to the indictment against Young, at least two minors and eight adults were moved back and forth between Honolulu and Detroit between November 2003 and July 2005.
The girls and adults were forced to engage in commercial sex acts, and one of the minors was shown in pornographic materials engaging in sexually explicit conduct, the indictment said.
The victims would spend three to six months in Hawaii before being moved back to Detroit, Ego said.
Goodwin said the constant travel meant the victims were almost always in a new place, which made them less likely to flee. It also meant authorities had a harder time tracking the group.
Officials started investigating the ring 18 months ago.
Goodwin added that child prostitution is a "considerable problem" in the islands.
"With the tourism industry, there's a demand" for child prostitutes, he said. "We typically get a lot of complaints about underage prostitution."
Domestic child prostitution cases have been a federal law-enforcement priority since 2003, with the advent of the U.S. Justice Department's "Innocence Lost" initiative.
Previous crackdowns have netted 500 arrests nationwide, 70 indictments and 67 convictions, Gonzales said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.