CHARLOTTE – In fiscal year 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the principal investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security, arrested 2,197 criminals associated with human trafficking, a 38 percent increase from the previous year. HSI Charlotte made 125 of those arrests, which was the 4th highest number of human trafficking-related arrests among HSI field offices.
Zerrell Ross Fuentes and his associates for sex trafficking three minor victims. In November 2019, Fuentes was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and two females associated were sentenced to 10 and two years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the trafficking scheme.
Thuy Tein Thuy Luong, the business owner of a nail salon, and a co-conspirator for allegedly engaging in forced-labor and financially benefitting from trafficking in persons. The victim in this case alleged that she was repeatedly physically assaulted by her employer and forced into a debt contract for $180,000.
HSI uses a victim-centered approach in its trafficking investigations, where equal value is placed on both the identification and stabilization of victims as well as the prosecution of the traffickers. Through HSI Charlotte’s investigative work, the field office identified and/or assisted nearly 30 victims of human trafficking in FY 2019.
While human trafficking can occur in a variety of scenarios and industries, indicators of trafficking activities often look the same across cases. Educating the public to recognize the signs is crucial to identifying victims and bringing traffickers to justice. HSI developed the Strategic Trafficking Outreach Program (S.T.O.P.) to raise awareness, as well as educate the public on how to report instances of suspected trafficking.
Every day, HSI agents around the globe work to uncover, dismantle and disrupt human trafficking. They come face to face with the worst of humanity – traffickers profiting from the forced labor and commercial sex of their victims using physical and sexual abuse, threats of harm and deportation, false promises, economic and psychological manipulation, and cruelty.
Human trafficking victims have been found in communities nationwide in the agriculture, hospitality, restaurant, domestic work and other industries, as well as in prostitution that is facilitated online, on the street, or in businesses fronting for prostitution such as massage parlors. Overseas forced labor can be used to produce the consumer goods that are in our homes and workplaces. The victims are men, women and children of all ages and may include U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Many of them may have thought they had found a good paying job or a better life, only to have their hopes and dreams dashed and placed into modern-day slavery.