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April 18, 2011San Diego, CA, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Racketeering probe leads to arrest of San Diego-area gang members for sex trafficking and other crimes

Oceanside Travelodge motel and its owner also charged
SAN DIEGO - Federal authorities unsealed an indictment Monday charging an Oceanside, Calif., motel and 38 individuals, mostly members and associates of the Oceanside Crips street gang, with racketeering and other charges related to the sex trafficking of underage girls and women.

The indictments are the results of Operation "Vice Grip," an18-month investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Oceanside Police Department and the San Diego Sheriff's Office.

So far, investigators have arrested 29 of those indicted in the case, including the motel's owner. More arrests are expected. In addition, the case indictment also seeks the criminal forfeiture of the Oceanside Travelodge motel.

According to the indictment, the defendants are members, associates, and facilitators of the "Oceanside Crips Enterprise," which includes three separate Oceanside gangs that have interacted since 2005 to expand their geographical territory and protect it against rival gangs. The organization's senior members directed the activities of more junior members, even from prison.

The indictment further alleges that, in recent years, the Enterprise has increasingly focused its for-profit criminal activity on promoting and managing prostitution in San Diego County and throughout the United States. The gang-controlled prostitution spawned a "pimping" subculture that enforced strict rules with consequences for individuals who violated them.

"The indictment unsealed today targets a growing problem in San Diego County and across the country - street gangs like the Crips expanding traditional gang activities (drug trafficking and violent crime) to include prostitution," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "I cannot state this more emphatically: I regard the kind of prostitution involved in this case, including the trafficking of children via the Internet, social networking sites and local business, as a form of modern-day slavery to which every available law enforcement resource will be applied. I commend the work of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners for their dedication and commitment to this case."

The recruitment efforts included extensive online advertising and the use of social media websites, including MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The defendants generally targeted vulnerable underage girls who were runaways or from broken homes, but also included girls from middleclass families in the Oceanside area.

After recruiting the prostitutes, the Enterprise "pimps" allegedly provided victims with controlled substances and alcohol in order to manipulate their loyalty and increase productivity related to prostitution. Once the victims became dependent on the "pimps," they were sometimes sold, traded or "gifted" to other "pimps."

"The sex trafficking of women and children is a particularly heinous crime and will not be tolerated in our communities," said Michael Carney, acting special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego. "We must continue to work to dismantle and destroy sex trafficking rings here and abroad. Our goal is to not only prevent the spread of this modern day form of slavery, but to wipe it out in every form where it exists."

Among those charged with facilitating the Enterprise's prostitution activities are the two individuals and limited liability company (LLC) that own and operate the Oceanside Travelodge, which was frequently used for the prostitution activities.

Vinod N. Patel, 60, acting on behalf of Gayatri Investments, LLC, and his son, Hitesh Vinod Patel, 27, were arrested and charged in the indictments for allowing the Enterprise members and associates to rent rooms in specific areas of the motel, segregating them from legitimate customers. According to the indictment, the Patels commonly charged and accepted cash payments from the Enterprise members and associates, in exchange for permitting the prostitution activities to be conducted at the Travelodge.

"We are committed to disrupting the operation of violent and threatening street gangs in San Diego County and will relentlessly pursue those who traffic and exploit vulnerable juveniles," said Keith Slotter, special agent in charge for the FBI in San Diego. "Cooperation among law enforcement agencies is critical to identifying, disrupting, and dismantling the organized enterprises that perpetuate these crimes and to stopping the cycle of victimization."

If convicted, the defendants face maximum penalties for racketeering activities of up to 20 years, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release.

To report suspicious activity, call ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at: 1-866-347-2423 or visit