"Innocence Lost" Sting: Sixteen-City
Sweep Marks 5th Anniversary

From the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Director Mueller speaks to reporters during a press conference announcing the results of Operation Cross Country, a five-day sweep that targeted criminals involved in trafficking children for prostitution. With Mueller is Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

FBI Photo

Today we announced the results of an unprecedented five-day nationwide sweep targeting criminals involved in trafficking children for prostitution in the United States. The stings, dubbed “Operation Cross Country,” spanned 16 cities and resulted in the arrest of 389 people and the recovery of 21 children.

The coordinated operation, which ended June 22, was the largest in the history of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which marks its five-year anniversary this month. To date, the initiative has rescued more than 400 child victims and led to the conviction of 308 individuals who exploited children through prostitution. Investigations have uncovered schemes that run the gamut from prostituting children at truck stops to promoting their services on the Internet.

“The sex trafficking of children remains one of the most violent and unforgivable crimes,” FBI Director Robert Mueller said during a press conference at FBI Headquarters. “What is different as we stand here today is that we are faced with the increasing use of social network sites and other advances in technology to carry out these crimes and facilitate these criminal enterprises.”

The Innocence Lost initiative was created in 2003 to address the growing problem of child prostitution in America. Our Criminal Investigative Division partnered with the Child Exploitation-Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice and with the nonprofit National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to bring together state and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers. The initiative’s 24 task forces and working groups have recovered 433 children to date and seized over $3 million in assets.

“Child trafficking for the purpose of prostitution is organized criminal activity using kids as commodities for sale and trade,” said NCMEC President and CEO Ernie Allen during the press conference. “These kids are victims. They lack the ability to walk away. This is 21st century slavery.”

More than 350 state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation Cross Country." The 16 cities targeted spanned the country, ranging from Boston to Miami to San Francisco. They focused primarily on rescuing kids and identifying the organized networks that target and traffic children. The operation was the largest since 2005, when a nationwide sweep identified some 30 child victims and led to the arrest of 19 individuals.

Our partnership with NCMEC has resulted in a significant number of success stories. Examples include:

  • In Kansas, Don L. Elbert, III forced three underage sisters—two of whom were 14-year-old twins—into prostitution. He was captured and pled guilty to child sex trafficking in May 2007. In January, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
  • In Detroit, Keith Goodwin was sentenced last October to 97 months in prison for the production of child pornography. During a search of his residence, three child victims of prostitution were recovered.
  • In Atlantic City, a former U.S. Postal Service employee was sentenced in March to 23 years in prison for operating a criminal enterprise involving 35-40 females whom he forced into prostitution. His youngest victim was 14 years old.

In addition to the Innocence Lost initiative, our Crimes Against Children program manages Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams, which support state and local law enforcement in investigations, and the Innocent Images National Initiative, which targets the proliferation of child porn.

The message to the public, NCMEC’s Allen said, is: "If you see it in your city, if you hear about it, if you suspect it, report it." To do that, please contact the NCMEC hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or file a report through its CyberTipline.