Utah Officials Make Arrests in Alleged Human Trafficking Ring

Nov 30, 2012

Alleged prostitution ring leader Manuel Zapata-Sanchez was arrested in Thursday's raids.
Credit Salt Lake County Jail

The Utah Attorney General’s office, along with the Salt Lake City Police Department, the Unified Police Department, and federal agents, performed a search on Thursday of Salt Lake-area massage parlors. The result: three men arrested, and ten women—several of whom were minors—detained, in what looks to be part of an international human trafficking and prostitution ring.

Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen says the businesses that were raided may have looked legitimate to outsiders.

"One was in a strip mall next to completely legitimate businesses. I mean they were, for normal people looking probably would really think that's just an ordinary business in an ordinary community."

This raid comes on the heels of a new report grading every state on their child sex trafficking laws. This year, 35 states, including Utah, received a “D” grade or lower from the Protected Innocence Challenge Report released by group Shared Hope International. However, Christine Raino of Shared Hope points out that Utah, as well as other states, have improved since last year.

"The idea is that it's a call to action. So the 'D' shows that there's need for improvement, and the point of the report card is to look at, 'What is Utah doing well? What is Utah not doing well?' And so, what are the areas that point out the legislative gaps? The scores and grades really kind of help show how states are advancing."

Torgensen doesn’t credit the report directly for influencing this raid, but he says more discussion about child trafficking has helped accelerate better enforcement.

"There's been this really vibrant discussion trying to get law enforcement aware of and concerned about this human trafficking problem. And so I think that had a lot to do with sort of raising this on everybody's radar screen—it certainly did mine. That has given us some real keen interest into these areas."