Wednesday, March 21, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A federal trial got underway Tuesday for more than a dozen people accused in a sex trafficking ring that stretched from the Twin Cities to Ohio and Tennessee.
Several mugshots from arrests of an alleged multi-state prostitution ring. (Image courtesy of US District Court in Tennessee)
The FBI ranks Minnesota as the nation's 13th largest center for human trafficking.
Now, several traffickers who are alleged members Somali gangs that ran a trafficking network from Minnesota to Ohio to Tennessee, are on trial.
Jury selection began Tuesday in federal court in Nashville, but a good part of the investigation took place in Minnesota.
This is the first trial. Fifteen people out of a total of 30 who were indicted will plead their case to a jury. They are accused of forcing teenage girls into prostitution, exchanging sex for money, drugs and alcohol.
Prosecutors say the ring involved three gangs - the Somali Outlaws, Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws - all based in the Twin Cities. At least some of the victims were Somali themselves and at least one was under the age of 13.
Linda Miller is an attorney with the Civil Society who helps victims get out and later testify against their trafficker. She assisted some of the victims in the Somali gang case. Miller says human trafficking is a growing issue and the victims are getting younger and younger.
"It has to do with money and profit and there are people who want to victimize young girls and you can get more money for young girls. And the other factor is the younger they are the more vulnerable they are," says Miller.
The trial of these alleged gang members is expected to last about two months. If convicted, they could face 15 years to life in prison. The remaining 15 defendants will be tried later.
You can report any human trafficking you suspect to the Minnesota Human Trafficking Crisis and Tip Line at 1-888-772-3324 or 651-291-8810 in any language you speak.