Sting highlights ‘devastating’ reality of human trafficking in Garfield County
Unsealed court documents reveal the simple details of an undercover operation that rounded up nine people accused of seeking sex with children in Glenwood Springs last weekend.
Agents posed as guardians of two fictitious girls, one 14, and one 13, and offered to sell them for sex at a Glenwood Springs hotel.
When the nine men showed up, they were arrested. In about two days, nine people showed up, most of them from Garfield County.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling brought the idea of an undercover operation to local law enforcement partners some time ago, and in June and July, got other state and federal agencies on board to conduct the undercover operation.
“I really have a place in my heart for kids,” Schilling said. “I know this stuff goes on, so it was important for me to do what we could to tide any flow of people preying on kids.”
Each arrest proceeded similarly, according to court documents from eight of the arrests.
When the suspects allegedly responded to ads posted on unidentified websites, via text message, several “chatters” from Colorado Bureau of Investigation would communicate with the suspects, negotiate prices for different acts, set minimal rules and arranged meeting places.
In each conversation, the chatters made it clear that the girls were underage, and asked the suspects to choose one or both fictitious girls, according to the court documents.
One man allegedly negotiated to have sex without protection for a higher price. Another made a request for multiple encounters with both children, and requested the girls wear perfume.
Many negotiated prices using “roses,” which is a term for dollars, according to the court documents.
According to court documents, when the men arrived at the rendezvous point, they would meet with the undercover officer and be given a key card to a hotel room. When they entered the hotel, they were arrested.
The men charged as a result of the operation run the gamut of class and race.
Schilling was not surprised at the number of people arrested in the operation.
“Actually, I think that we would have had quite a bit more if we had done Friday and Saturday instead of Thursday and Friday,” Schilling said.
Only one man, Scott Fetzer, showed up on Thursday evening. Another seven came Friday, and firefighter Jan Blewett allegedly came after his shift at the Colorado River Fire Rescue, headquartered in Rifle, and drove to Glenwood Springs early Saturday morning to meet with the undercover officers.
Arresting suspects for attempting to purchase sex with children is only part of the solution to stop the trafficking of children.
Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal enterprises, second only to drug trafficking, according to Gina Stryker, who said traffickers and their victims often go unnoticed.
“It’s a devastating crime, and it’s growing. It’s a $150 billion a year industry, and it’s not just over there in third world countries. It is right here in our valley, from Aspen to Grand Junction,” Stryker said.
Stryker has advocated for victims of human trafficking with her company, Gina Cucina, a Carbondale-based soup maker.
One thing people don’t realize is that child sex trafficking exists among both the affluent and the impoverished, Stryker said, which makes it all the more important for people to understand how to spot it.
“I do believe the more people know, the more we can prevent it,” Stryker said.
The Department of Homeland Security has resources for spotting and reporting suspected human trafficking.
Stryker also has prepared a tip sheet of signs of trafficking, and advice for what to do if someone sees something suspicious.
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