3 Arrests receive 23 year sentences
It was a hot humid morning in the bustling city of Bucaramanga Colombia and children were making their way to the Pedro Sotomayor Elementary School. Children laden with cute backpacks were clutching to their mothers or fathers on the back of motorcycles arriving to be dropped off while others hiked in laughing and playing along the way. Blended into the scene at the end of the peaceful crowded street were undercover operators from Children's International Rescue Foundation embedded with Detectives of the Colombian National Police conducting surveillance on a residence across the street from the school with binoculars and video cameras behind tinted windows. An anonymous tip had come in with suspicions of child sex trafficking taking place above a small shoe factory in the crowded community. The Colombian/CIRF task force became increasingly suspicious after observing a man on a motorcycle frequently transporting young women to and from the residence in provocative clothing. Through additional investigative techniques, investigators conducted close target reconnaissance capturing recorded conversations with a woman identified as Marcela Pena and her husband Andres Socha. The conversations indicated the couple was running a clandestine brothel sexually exploiting minors from Venezuela and local kids in difficult economic situations through confidential advertisements. CIRF investigators and Colombian authorities continued patient collection of evidence identifying the transporter as Gabriel Badillo and observed the trafficking of illegal narcotics as well as human trafficking. CIRF investigators obtained information one of the young victims had been hospitalized due to a vaginal infection, was attempting suicide, and had to be restrained in a mental ward. This troubling news combined with the observation of a firearm and the criminal organization drugging some of the girls to simplify control and provide smoother service for the clients created a sense of urgency within the task force to complete the necessary paperwork for the prosecutor.
Officials ultimately obtained arrest warrants for the three suspects pictured here on charges of human trafficking and drug distribution. A raid was conducted and officials released the victims to care facilities. The suspects pled guilty and each received a 23-year prison sentence.
CIRF investigators divide human trafficking cases into two broad genres: Family Clans and Gang Traffickers. This particular organization was a family clan operated by a husband/wife and a third party who facilitated the transport of victims, enforcement, recruitment, and micro drug trafficking. CIRF investigators have identified Family Clan traffickers in a variety of environments ranging from advertised and clandestine brothels, clubs, bars, mobile services, motels, tourism agencies, and street-level trafficking. Recent CIRF Gang trafficking cases involve false advertisements for employment as a model or waitress with paid fares to neighboring countries where victims are then stripped of their documentation and belongings, provided false identities, and sexually exploited in similar environments until a debt is paid, the victim escapes or is rescued by law enforcement.