Five Norwich arrests part of FBI child prostitution sweep

The arrest of five people, including an alleged pimp, by Norwich police last week was part of what the FBI announced Monday as a nationwide law enforcement sweep designed to identify children being victimized through prostitution.

The FBI joined with local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, for “Operation Cross Country 7,” which started on Friday.

The FBI said the operation was conducted in 76 cities across 47 FBI divisions nationwide and led to the recovery of 105 children being victimized through prostitution. Additionally, 159 accused pimps were arrested on state and federal charges, the FBI said. The sweep is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative.

The FBI’s New Haven Division said five underage prostitutes were rescued and cases against their accused pimps are progressing. It is unclear where in the state the underage prostitutes were found. The FBI worked with the state police computer crimes unit and local police departments in Norwich, Berlin, West Hartford, Milford and New Haven.

Norwich police Lt. Mark Rankowitz said police, through the department’s special FBI liaison, Officer Julie St. Jean, worked for months leading up to Friday’s operation.

Four women, three from out of state, were all arrested at a Norwich hotel that worked with authorities, Rankowitz said. The women who arrived to meet their clients in Norwich were all over the age of 18, though. They were arrested for prostitution, Rankowitz said. A Rhode Island man was charged with promoting prostitution.

Rankowitz said the women arrested as part of the federal investigation had posted online ads for their services.

“The truly sad thing about underage prostitution is not only that it exists, but that child prostitutes are frequently forced into this lifestyle,” said Special Agent Kimberly K. Mertz, head of the New Haven FBI. “It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of how they came to be involved in prostitution and their inability to get out.”

FBI New Haven Supervisory Special Agent Sean Gordon, in a statement, said the operation was aimed at safely removing children from their “horrible situations.”

“That said, we also work diligently to locate and identify pimps and prostitution networks with the goal of prosecuting them and getting them out of business,” he said.

Gordon said the state Department of Children and Families “has been the driving force to educate the public about underage prostitution and child trafficking and to provide safe havens for these children who are taken off the streets.”

g.smith@theday.com

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