Columbia brothel among those discovered in federal investigation


MACON, GA (AP) -- Federal investigators have busted a suspected brothel in Columbia and made a multitude of arrests.

Federal authorities have arrested 29 people in 13 cities in eight states on charges related to sex trafficking.

Federal authorities say Operation Safe Haven, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, began in Moultrie. Authorities say they identified a loose organization that coordinates the trafficking of Hispanic women in southern states.

Authorities say the traffickers were independent operators who worked together to transport and exploit women for sexual purposes.

The five-count indictment filed in federal court in Macon charges 38 people, 29 of whom were arrested Thursday. Law enforcement officers also rescued 15 potential victims in raids on brothels and homes Thursday.

"Human sex trafficking is a cancer that we must cut out, and then aggressively fight with all of our resources. Sometimes the trafficking victims are kidnapped and forced into sexual servitude through violence. Other times the victims are lured with the promise of a better life, and then held hostage by predators who literally financially imprison them or intimidate them with threats of harm or shame to them or their families. No matter the circumstances that brought these women into sexual servitude, they are victims. And whether the weapons used by the traffickers cause physical, mental or emotional harm, they are predators, and we will track them down no matter the cost. This investigation has been an example of the outstanding cooperation between federal and state agencies. I applaud their efforts. I also want to thank my colleagues, US Attorneys George Beck, Joyce Vance and Chris Canova for their partnership and assistance," said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore.

The arrests, which are the result of a 15-month investigation, were made in the following states: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

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