3 On Your Side Investigation: Operation Gotcha - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigation: Operation Gotcha

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

A teenage girl goes missing; later found, a victim forced into the sex trade. It's not a movie plot. It's actually happening here in Mississippi.

It's also one of the reasons the Hinds County Sheriff's Department has launched "Operation Gotcha".

It's the oldest profession, dating back to Biblical times and it's not going away. So, why is the Hinds County Sheriff's Department devoting resources to cracking down on prostitution?

"You know it's not a victimless crime," an undercover investigator explained. "Many like to say there's no victim, but there is."

"The youngest that we saw in this operation was 14-years-old and then it goes up; about 15 or 16," said Sheriff Victor Mason.

The "operation" is dubbed Operation Gotcha. It is a cooperative effort between the Hinds County Sheriff's Department and the Morton Police Department.

"You remember when Sheriff Mason was elected, he said he was gonna stick his hand out to all departments, so when he stuck his hand out to ours we grabbed a hold to it," said Morton Police Chief Nicky Crapps.

The primary weapon in this sting operation? A computer and internet access. The prime hunting ground, a website; Backpage-dot-com.

The undercover officer points out, 

"So, this is all actual females out there right now that are promoting prostitution," the undercover officer pointed out. "They're asking themselves, putting themselves out there for men to call or females. Some of them, you know, say or both and the one we created are just like this."

This undercover officer, who's identity we won't reveal, demonstrates how the department taps in, setting up bogus accounts to snare would-be "Johns" and prostitutes. In this post, the heading is "new girl in town looking to share the night with a nice guy-22". A phone number is listed; sometimes a random picture of a pretty girl, pulled off the internet, is inserted; you can even upload a video of yourself.

For this demonstration, only the message and a phone number...and within seconds, LITERALLY SECONDS, the undercover officer's phone rings and with his best female vocal impression.... 

The officer asked, "You looking to hang out?"

"Yeah", replied the "John".

"What you looking for baby?" the officer asked.

And less than 3 hours later, deputies arrested a man at a Jackson truck stop. He is a truck driver from McHenry, Mississippi and, guess what, he has drugs and a criminal record. He is spending time at the Raymond Detention, for now.

Less than a month into the initiative, Operation Gotcha made more than 62 arrests and in most of the cases soliciting was not the only charge."

"A lot of drugs brought in that we got off the streets," said Chief Crapps. "And I think it really helps our town by knowing this is going on."

Friday, March 7th, Operation Gotcha rubbed out a "massage parlor" off Lakeland Drive in Jackson. Deputies say it was more like a house of prostitution. They found bags of condoms and other tools of the trade, busting 3 women ranging in age from 20 to 40-years-old.

Dean Scott specializes in human trafficking for the Hinds County Sheriff's Department.

"We work for Sheriff Mason. He wants to clean up the city and we're going to exhaust every effort we can to do that. It's an uphill battle," said Scott.

And in a more recent case, a 24-year-old woman was busted for prostitution. She agreed to talk to us anonymously. We'll call her "Jane". Her story is all too familiar.

"In my childhood, there's pretty much nothing but sexual and physical abuse as early as I can remember. I think 4 was the earliest," said Jane. 

So is her reason for getting into the sex trade. "Jane" is a single mother who says she needed the money.

"Like, it feels like that could be the answer to everything that's going on at the moment and you're not really focused on what you have to do for the money," added Jane. "Just focused on the fact that you're getting a substantial amount of money."

"But it's not worth it," continued Jane. "Seems like it's gonna save you and it's not. It's gonna tear a hole inside of you bigger and bigger until it swallows you up and there's nothing left."

"Jane" told us her sex trade career began only a year ago. She says it ends with her arrest and now she's seeking help. Jane is one of the lucky ones. Sheriff Mason says so many cases end tragically.

"It's going to be bigger and better, even on this end. We gonna reach out and get ya," vowed Sheriff Mason

You can learn more about sex trafficking on the Project Polaris website.

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