Prosecutors believe they have finally busted a major teen prostitution ring that covered 24 states and Canada.
Fifteen members of a Minneapolis crime family are accused of enslaving teen-age girls and selling them for sex for the last 17 years, reports Correspondent Randi Kaye of CBS station WCCO-TV.
Local and federal police arrested nine members of the ring early Thursday morning, including Levorn Evans, who is named in 10 of the 44 counts in the indictment. Six people named in the indictment, which includes charges that range from prostitution to money laundering, remain at large.
William G. Eubanks of the FBI's St. Louis office said the organization, which was known as the "Family," began its operation in 1982. The ring, eight of whom are members of the Evans family, operated as pimps and placed the women under their control into massage parlors and with escort services, he said.
The nine arrested are set to appear at a removal hearing next Tuesday. The charges were filed in the Eastern District of Missouri federal court because the ring was discovered in the St. Louis area.
The indictment alleges these men recruited at least 30 girls from Minnesota, and at least another 20 from around the Midwest. The girls ranged in age from 14 to 18.
Investigators say the ring spread over 24 states and Canada from its base in Minneapolis.
"The girls worked seven days a week, 365 days a year," said Minneapolis Police Chief Richrad Schultz. They turned from three to 10 "tricks" a day, earning millions of dollars, some as much as $20,000 a week. Every penny was turned over to the pimps.
"The females relinquished the proceeds of the prostitution to the pimps," Eubanks said. "They were controlled and disciplined through beatings, torture, rape and attempted murder."
The federal indictment claims one suspect "struck and kicked a pregnant girl in her face, sides and abdomen." Another girl had "a pistol held to her head."
"This is as close to modern slavery as you can get," said Joe Delia, a police detective in Maryland Heights, a suburb of St. Louis.
Some of the girls were runaways, others came from what authorities called "really good homes." Most were lured into the ring at malls, shopping centers and dance clubs. Some stayed for as long as six or seven years, while a few managed to escape after just a few weeks.
"They were very skilled at picking them up when they were most vulnerable," Minneapolis Police Department Detective Andy Schmidt said. "It's kind of like a cult, they break them down. It's brainwashing."
The ring used cell phones and pagers to keep track of the women and allow clients to contact them. One girl told police she took her pager to her middle school with her, and would receive instructions there.
"I'd rather be dead than doing what I'm doing," a 15-year-old prostitute told an investigator.
In making te arrests, police seized five homes and six luxury cars.
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