Trinidad busts human trafficking, prostitution ring involving South American girls

A police vehicle passes in front of Stir Fry Restaurant on Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, hours after a raid at the establishment yesterday morning.

(Trinidad Guardian) Po­lice have smashed what they be­lieve to be a ma­jor sex and drug ring op­er­at­ing in West­ern Trinidad af­ter they raid­ed sev­er­al up­scale homes and a restau­rant along Ari­api­ta Av­enue in Port-of-Spain ear­ly yes­ter­day morn­ing.

Dur­ing the po­lice op­er­a­tion in West Trinidad that start­ed at 2 am, 19 South Amer­i­can fe­males were res­cued while po­lice de­tained 10 male Asian sus­pects. They al­so seized over a $1 mil­lion in lo­cal and for­eign cur­ren­cy and ar­rest­ed five male Asian and three fe­male South Amer­i­cans in Curepe last evening, af­ter in­tel­li­gence gath­ered from the first set of raids in the west led them to East Trinidad.

Gary Griffith

Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith yes­ter­day told Guardian Me­dia that some of the women were res­cued at an up­scale Colum­bus Dri­ve, West­moor­ings home, com­plete with swim­ming pool, while oth­er women were res­cued at an­oth­er up­scale home along Morne Co­co Road, near St An­tho­ny’s Col­lege and the rest at the restau­rant.

Grif­fith co­or­di­nat­ed the op­er­a­tion, which in­volved of­fi­cers of the West­ern Di­vi­sion, Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Re­sponse Team (SORT), Counter Traf­fick­ing Unit (CTU), Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Branch (FIB) and the Child Pro­tec­tion Unit (CPU).

Grif­fith de­scribed the op­er­a­tion as a sig­nif­i­cant break­through.

“They have been in­stru­men­tal in what may very well break a ma­jor ring in Trinidad and To­ba­go in the in­volve­ment of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion of young ladies that al­so in­volves pros­ti­tu­tion and all oth­er as­pects of hu­man traf­fick­ing,” Grif­fith told Guardian Me­dia.

He said the young women were held in cap­tiv­i­ty and were pos­si­bly vic­tims of a sex ring.

“Most of them are 15 and 16 years old that were ac­tu­al­ly held against their will, they were ba­si­cal­ly slaves be­ing used as pros­ti­tutes by cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als.”

He added, “Imag­ine they were keep­ing these girls in rooms that were locked up and bolt­ed. And po­lice al­so found drugs in these rooms.”

CTU di­rec­tor Alana Wheel­er said they were work­ing close­ly with the young women and ap­pealed to the pub­lic to re­port sim­i­lar cas­es to the au­thor­i­ties.

“We are cur­rent­ly in the process of screen­ing them with in­ter­preters to de­ter­mine if they are vic­tims of traf­fick­ing or not. As the Com­mis­sion­er said, they are mi­nors and very young adult fe­males and we are ask­ing the pub­lic, if you iden­ti­fy sus­pect­ed young women, par­tic­u­lar­ly for­eign mi­grants who are in places they ought not to be, please re­fer them to the rel­e­vant agen­cies,” Wheel­er ap­pealed.

ASP Wen­dell Lu­cas, of the FIB, al­so not­ed that hu­man traf­fick­ing a far-reach­ing il­lic­it trade and al­so a lu­cra­tive busi­ness for many. He warned home­own­ers to take note of the types of homes which were used in the ring and point­ed out that they should be more alert when screen­ing peo­ple for the lease or rental of their prop­er­ties.

“What we are see­ing here is an evolv­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion where there is a lot of mon­ey in­volved and as the Com­mis­sion­er in­di­cat­ed, these young ladies have been brought in­to a ring of pros­ti­tu­tion and the ev­i­dence so far sug­gests that these ladies were placed in sev­er­al places and sev­er­al lo­ca­tions in Trinidad and To­ba­go, in prop­er­ties that were leased from landown­ers,” Lu­cas said.

“This is a call to all landown­ers and prop­er­ty own­ers to be mind­ful of the per­sons who you are leas­ing your prop­er­ty to and have some idea as to what is go­ing to be tak­ing place at your prop­er­ty. What we are see­ing is an elab­o­rate scheme which in­volves these young women and we have seen a lot of mon­ey in­volved in these trans­ac­tions.”

Hours af­ter the west Trinidad raids were con­clud­ed, po­lice raid­ed a Chi­nese restau­rant in Curepe and ar­rest­ed five Asian men and three South Amer­i­can women and seized over $1 mil­lion in as­sort­ed cur­ren­cy.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing.

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