Anyone who attempts to buy a human for sex in San Diego should expect "a visit at the sheriff's inn" instead of a citation, a top prosecutor said Tuesday.
Law enforcement officers across Southern California worked together last week to target people who purchase people for sex in an investigation dubbed "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild."
Investigators posted ads online offering sex for money, Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan said. An adult peace officer posed as a minor in the undercover operation.
When potential buyers showed up to a hotel expecting to buy a person for sex, law enforcement officers took them into custody.
Stephan said 142 men were arrested, accused of soliciting prostitution in the three-county operation. She said 28 children and 27 adults were rescued by officers.
The illegal sex trade is believed to generate $810 million annually, making it the second-largest criminal industry in San Diego County. Illegal narcotics is the top criminal industry, Stephan said.
Thirty-eight people were arrested in San Diego County alone including 22 buyers that are charged with soliciting prostitution.
In Southern California, 36 men were arrested and accused of pimping, officials said.
The men will face misdemeanors; however, they were not simply cited and released. Each suspect was handcuffed and jailed for the offense, Stephan said.
“The days of citation are gone. They should expect to have a visit at the sheriff’s inn,” she said.
Most of those arrested were married with children at home, San Diego County Sheriff's Department Assistant Sheriff Mike Barnett said. Their occupations ranged from unemployment to highly compensated professional careers, he said.
The operation involved more than 160 people from 18 different agencies.
Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman said programs like this one has helped reduce the footprint of human trafficking in her city.
“San Diego is a safer area as a result of their work,” she said.