FBI’s Operation Independence Day leads to local sex trafficking arrests

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ST. LOUIS - It’s called Operation Independence Day.  The month-long, nationwide effort by the FBI and its law enforcement partners helped shine a spotlight on sex trafficking.  The operation resulted in 105 child victims recovered or identified and 70 suspected sex traffickers arrested.  The FBI’s St. Louis Division reports 2 child victims were recovered.  Three suspects were charged.

Sex traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to get a victim to engage in commercial sex acts, according to the FBI.

“The FBI does not arrest sex trafficking victims for prostitution,” said FBI Public Affairs Officer Rebecca Wu.   “Our goal is to rescue them, not to prosecute them.”

She said the effort to help victims takes place daily throughout the year.  The month-long effort is a way to highlight the problem, help victims get to a safe place and give other victims hope knowing law enforcement will continue to bring sex traffickers to justice.

“Child sex trafficking has been reported in every state,” said Wu.  “In high profile sports venues, in farming communities, and isolated Native American communities.”

The Southern District of Illinois announced that Operation Independence Day helped lead to the indictments of 8 men for child enticement charges.  In all 8 cases, online tools were used.  He said,

“There are many ways on the internet and through cell phone apps that they can communicate with children,” said U.S. Attorney Steven Weinhoeft.  “It’s really a wake-up call and an opportunity for parents to get ahold and handle on their children’s online activities and talk with them to make sure they understand how to be safe on the internet.”

If you or someone you know is need of help, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.  The Polaris Project has information about potential red flags that someone is being trafficked.

The Southern District of Illinois released the names of the following individuals charged with child enticement:

  • Lawrence A. Bangs, 39, of Herrin, Illinois
  • Jesse A. Cantu, 43, of Mt. Vernon, Illinois
  • Jorge L. Leal, 34, of Marion, Illinois
  • Bret M. Feldscher, 27, of Herrin, Illinois
  • Neal J. Keane, 28, of Tucson, Arizona
  • James M. Davis, 63, of St. Louis, Missouri
  • Hank D. Yoast, 46, of Herrin, Illinois
  • Rick E. Garner, 43, of Sesser, Illinois.

The St. Louis Division of the FBI released the following names of men facing sex trafficking charges:

  • Terrance Adams, of Memphis, Tennessee
  • Terrell Andre Harrold, of St. Louis, Missouri
  • Thomas Lamar Perry, of St. Louis area
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