More than 80 booked in Superbowl crackdown on prostitution, human trafficking

A task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies booked more than 80 people in connection with prostitution, pandering and human trafficking during Super Bowl, officials announced on Thursday.

The arrests came as part of Operation Innocence Lost, a national initiative by the FBI where the agency partners with state and local law enforcement groups to target sex trafficking, particularly activities involving children. The partnership has existed since 2008 and typically gears up whenever there are major events that have the potential to encourage an increase in sex crimes.

The operation during Super Bowl week resulted in 85 arrests in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, along with five children removed from situations connected to prostitution, according to statistics released by the group. Most of the arrests were related to prostitution or pandering, but there were two arrests related to human trafficking.

Typically authorities used the human trafficking statute when they believe men or women are being forced into labor, particularly of a sexual nature.

Special Agent in Charge Mike Anderson said that often people wonder why the FBI is involved in what may appear to be low-level prostitution cases, but he said that’s because those cases are a gateway to other problems. Prostitution is linked to robberies, thefts, assaults and narcotics activity, Anderson said. He said agencies must work together to get a handle on the issue that’s a nationwide problem.

“The FBI’s participation in this task force made sense because of our participation on everything else,” Anderson said.

State Police Commander Col. Michael Edmonson said prostitution and human trafficking typically preys on vulnerable populations. Women are trapped in a vicious cycle and feel powerless to escape, he said. He related one story of a woman arrested for prostitution who had left her young children in the car while she went to work. Unfortunately, large-scale events lead to increases in this sort of activity, he said, which is why the task force was created.

“We know what types of elements come in on this and breeds on this,” said Edmonson, noting that the task force offers other services to women besides jail. “There were some women who didn’t want to be there and didn’t know there was an alternate lifestyle … Every major event we have, we’re going to be on top of it.”

According to city records, one arrest from the operation was of Christopher Frazier, 33, of Oklahoma, who authorities say persuaded two young women to come with him from Oklahoma to be “escorts” during the Super Bowl. The women told police they were told they would only have to attend balls or events, but when they arrived in New Orleans they were forced to work as prostitutes.

Police also arrested Datryl Blake, 35, and booked him with pandering and human trafficking. Edmonson said information generated during the Super Bowl will be used in future investigations.

The state Department of Children and Family Services takes custody of any children discovered during investigations and had special shelters set up during the Super Bowl to take them in.

Other agencies involved in the task force include the New Orleans Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office.

This story was altered on Feb. 9, 2012