NEW HAVEN — A joint operation by the FBI in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey over Super Bowl weekend recovered 16 juveniles, ages 13 to 17, who were forced into underage prostitution, officials in the New Haven field office said Tuesday.
In Connecticut, the operations were focused on hotels in lower Fairfield County, said Special Agent Daniel Curtin of the New Haven division.
Four juveniles were recovered by the New Haven division, Curtin said. Six were recovered in New Jersey and six in New York. Some were high school students and children who had been reported missing by their families, he said.
The operation also resulted in the arrests of more than 45 alleged pimps and their associates in the three states, some of whom claimed to be in the area specifically for the purpose of prostituting women and children at the Super Bowl.
“High-profile special events, which draw large crowds, have become lucrative opportunities for child prostitution criminal enterprises,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a statement Tuesday.
Two of the alleged pimps were arrested by authorities in Connecticut, Curtin said. Seventeen were arrested in New York and 27 in New Jersey.
The focus of the operation, Curtin said, was to recover the juveniles forced into these “despicable” situations.
“Then if you can disrupt the network of prostitution,” he said. “The hope is that we dismantle these organizations.”
Adult victims of human trafficking also were recovered during the operation, the FBI said.
The FBI’s New Haven division was aided by police officers and detectives from the state police and Stamford police, and victim specialists from the state Department of Children and Families.
The recoveries and arrests follow a similar nationwide crackdown last summer, in which five Connecticut teen-aged girls were rescued, and comes less than a week after DCF held its first major conference on the sex trafficking of minors in this state.
DCF has been working with prosecutors, police, judges, and non-profit social service agencies to improve response and refine prevention and intervention programs. Since 2008, DCF has received about 200 reports of minors ensnared in the sex trade in Connecticut. Most were in DCF care at the time they were being exploited and had run away from the agency’s programs.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said Monday that specialists in the department were working with FBI agents in advance of this latest crackdown. Katz praised the staff.
“Social workers and managers all answered the call as needed during this operation that lasted long into the evening and extended into the early hours of the morning,” she said.
Katz and other speakers at the Jan. 29 conference had stressed that DCF must “work closely with law enforcement, medical and other professionals to combat this horrible exploitation of children.”
She said that in the days leading up to the crackdown, “we were working in advance with the FBI and are grateful that we were able to contribute to a coordinated and effective response.”
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said the rescued girls have been returned to their home states.
By KELLY GLISTA and JOSH KOVNER, Hartford Courant.