Authorities said they had arrested 17 of the accused gang members
in San Diego, Arizona and New Jersey, and that another four people
charged in the indictment, unsealed on Wednesday, were already in
custody on other charges. Another three remained at large.
The defendants face charges of running a racketeering conspiracy,
and 14 of them were arraigned on Thursday in federal court in San
Diego, where they pleaded not guilty.
The San Diego-based sex trafficking operation which was run by
members of the Black MOB and Skanless gangs, extended into 46 cities
across 23 U.S. states, according to the federal grand jury
"The kind of sex trafficking described in this indictment is nothing
less than modern-day slavery," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy for the
Southern District of California told reporters on Wednesday.
"Unfortunately, more gangs are expanding from traditional pursuits
like drug dealing into this lucrative business."
Last month in Las Vegas, prosecutors said, the gang took part in an
event called a "Players Ball" in which one of the suspects, Robert
Banks III, posed with a so-called Pimp Cup and a Pimp Stick to
signify his high status in the trade.
VICTIMS RECRUITED ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Among the items seized in the investigation by the San Diego Police
Department and the FBI were two guns and marijuana plants, and
prosecutors filed forfeiture court actions to seize the gold dental
"grills" some of the defendants wore on their teeth.
The ring recruited women and girls from the streets in San Diego and
used social media websites such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube
to lure others into prostitution with rap videos and promises of
glamour, prosecutors said.
Brian Watkins, a lawyer for Banks, said after the court hearing on
Thursday, that the allegations against his client were exaggerated.
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"A lot of this has to do with associations, and a lot of these
people are from the same neighborhood, grew up together and they
know people in gangs," Watkins said.
"There are activities that most teenagers do that are being alleged
as part of serious gang activity, like things being said in rap
songs that are being used as evidence when rap is clearly
entertainment," he said.
The men and women accused in the enterprise had roles ranging from
transporting prostitutes to handling money, booking hotel rooms and
placing advertisements for sex, prosecutors said. Some also worked
to force women and girls into prostitution and dispense violence to
maintain their loyalty, prosecutors said.
Racketeering, the charge of running a criminal enterprise that was
brought against the mostly male gang members named in the
indictment, includes the act of sex trafficking, Assistant U.S.
Attorney Alessandra Serano said.
Prosecutors said 49 women and 11 teenage girls were victimized by
the sex trafficking scheme and have been offered resources to leave
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Cynthia Johnston, Gunna
Dickson and Lisa Shumaker)
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