22 gang members charged with luring teens into sex trade

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SAN DIEGO -- An indictment unsealed Thursday charges 22 alleged gang members and associates with participating in a racketeering conspiracy involving the cross-country sex trafficking of underage girls, including many who were recruited from middle and high schools in East San Diego County.

According to an indictment, the defendants are associated with a relatively new gang formed in 2008 called "Tycoons," which, until this morning, operated a nationwide prostitution enterprise primarily from Lemon Grove and Spring Valley.

“These gangsters pursued a very lucrative commodity -- unfortunately, this commodity is our young girls," said Joe Garcia of the Department of Homeland Security.

Over the course of a two-year investigation, law enforcement identified about 100 girls and women -- ranging in age from 12 to their mid-20s – who were manipulated with promises of a lavish lifestyle or were forced through threats or actual violence to work as prostitutes for the enterprise.

FBI Child Prostitution Poster“Victims of sex trafficking are young, just getting started in life," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "They have hopes and dreams of being loved and having beautiful lives ahead of them. Gang members are exploiting these dreams and stealing the souls of children. They are crushing them with false promises that lead to physical and emotional abuse and sexual slavery.''

Many of the victims were recruited on East County school campuses by pimps and experienced, high-ranking prostitutes, according to a search warrant filing. In some cases, the suspects would enroll girls from out of the area into locals schools to recruit new prospects. During the course of the conspiracy, the girls and women were transported from San Diego County to service customers in California and beyond -- including Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada, according to the indictment.

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