15 Deny Role in Sex Trafficking Ring

Authorities say pimps recruited on social media

By Michelle Wayland and Lindsay Hood
|  Tuesday, Apr 19, 2011  |  Updated 4:32 PM PDT
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Thirty female minors claimed gangs held them against their will, detectives said.

Thirty female minors claimed gangs held them against their will, detectives said.

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Fifteen defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday to racketeering for a prostitution ring that was based in North County and spread across the country, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy announced Monday that 38 people, including members of the "Insane Crip Gang," "Deep Valley Crips," and "Crook, Mob, Gangsters," have been indicted for alleged sex trafficking of minors and adults, attempted murder, kidnapping, extortion, and the distribution of controlled substances.

The rest of the defendants are scheduled to return to court on Friday at 3 p.m. for a detention hearing.

“The indictment… targets a growing problem in San Diego County and across the country - street gangs like the Crips expanding traditional gang activities to include prostitution," Duffy said.

The arrests are a result of an 18 month-long multi-agency investigation called "Operation Vice Grip," Duffy said.

During the investigation, detectives found 30 female minors who claimed they were being held by the gangs against their will.

The gang members allegedly recruited prostitutes using such social networking sites as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, Duffy said. The gang members would target runaways or girls from broken homes. Investigators allege the gang members would often gift the women and girls to each other.

The prostitutes would be punished through physical violence if they disobeyed their pimps, Duffy said.

Of the people named in the indictment, two are the owners of the Oceanside Travelodge, whom police say knowingly allowed the gangs and prostitutes to do business in their hotel. The hotel was just one North County establishment where the gang conducted its business.

Bail was set at $100,000 for two of the hotel owners.

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