WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI arrested 150 people across the United States on charges of holding children against their will for prostitution, a three-day weekend sweep that officials on Monday called the largest-ever operation against child sex-trafficking.
The suspects, whom the FBI referred to as “pimps,” were arrested in 76 U.S. cities and are expected to face state and federal charges related to sex crimes and human trafficking, FBI and U.S. Justice Department officials said at a news conference.
FBI agents and local police recovered 105 children during the operation at truck stops, motels, casinos and other places where they were forced to work as prostitutes, officials said.
Of the 150 suspects, 18 were arrested by agents based in Detroit, 17 by agents from San Francisco and 13 by Oklahoma City agents, the FBI said.
The FBI said the suspects were not part of the same operation. It said some belonged to organized crime while others acted alone. The bureau did not immediately release a list of the suspects.
The FBI typically does not investigate adult prostitution, leaving it as a state and local matter, but in recent years it has made child prostitution a priority in a program the FBI calls Operation Cross Country. The program includes highway billboards asking people to call the FBI with tips.
About 1,350 people have been convicted as part of the program and at least 10 of them were sentenced to life in prison, officials said.
The latest sweep was the seventh and largest under Operation Cross Country, they said.
Children who are most vulnerable to being exploited for sex crimes are between 13 and 16 years old without strong ties to family members, officials said.
“We are trying to take this crime out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it,” said FBI Assistant Director Ronald Hosko.
Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Howard Goller and Bill Trott