Eighteen individuals arrested in Bozeman during DCI human trafficking operation

Eighteen individuals arrested in Bozeman during DCI human trafficking operation

HELENA – Eighteen individuals were arrested in Bozeman over the weekend during a human trafficking operation conducted by the Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and Bozeman Police Department, Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced today.

The individuals have been charged with 18 counts of patronizing a prostitute, five counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, one count of resisting arrest, and one count of patronizing a victim of sex trafficking for a child victim. They were charged under Montana’s new statute, included in House Bill 112, that makes the solicitation of a prostitute a felony charge which Attorney General Knudsen helped write and pass during the 2023 Legislative Session.

“I’m incredibly proud of our DCI human trafficking investigators for their hard work and commitment to stopping this heinous crime in Montana. Working together with our law enforcement partners, we are getting these dangerous predators off the streets,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “At the Montana Department of Justice, we are increasing our investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking to send the message to criminals that it will not be tolerated in Montana.”

“We want to use this opportunity to educate the public and reach out to those in need of assistance,” Bozeman Police Detective Captain Dana McNeil stated. “If someone is controlling or managing you, abusing you, withholding basic necessities from you in order to control you and your finances, providing you with illegal drugs, or if you feel scared, unsafe, and unable to leave the situation, seek help.”

During the operation, which lasted from July 20 to July 22, investigators also seized drugs including cocaine and fentanyl. One of the individuals was also found to be an illegal immigrant who has been deported twice. If convicted, the individual charged with patronizing a victim of sex trafficking faces a sentence of up to 100 years in prison, again because of Montana’s new stronger human trafficking laws.

In addition to DCI and Bozeman Police, the Montana State University Special Victims Unit and Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation.

DCI’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) was also involved in a law enforcement operation in the Helena area recently that led to the arrest of four individuals who were soliciting minors online with the intent to engage in sexual activity.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Knudsen launched a new statewide public service announcement to educate Montanans on the issue and how to report it when they suspect they see it available here.

Know the signs. Potential indicators of sex trafficking may include:

  • Young person that is very hesitant to engage in conversation. Eyes are always downcast, avoiding eye contact, especially with men. Poor physical state…tired, malnourished, or shows signs of physical abuse or torture.
  • Seems to have trouble responding to what their name is or what location (city or even state) they are in. (Victims’ names are often changed, as are their whereabouts. They typically do not stay in one location for long – at times for 24 hours or less).
  • Wearing clothes that do not fit the climate or the situation such as short shorts or skirts, tank tops, and no jacket in the middle of winter.
  • Lack of control over money, personal possessions like bags, IDs, or documents. May also be carrying very few possessions in a plastic bag.
  • May be accompanied by a dominating person, or someone they seem fearful of. That controlling person may also be someone who does not seem to “fit,” such as a much older individual, an individual of a different race, or with behavior seemingly inappropriate with the suspected victim.
  • Young girl or boy hanging around outside a convenience store, truck stop, casino, or other location. May be approaching different vehicles or men they do not seem to know.

If you believe you witness human trafficking:

  • If the situation is an emergency, call 911.
  • Do not intervene if you see suspected trafficker(s). Remain at a safe distance or in your vehicle.
  • In non-emergency situations, call or text 1-833-406-STOP (1-833-406-7867) OR reach and advocate via live chat at 406stop.com.
  • When possible, take images with your cellular device of the suspected trafficker(s), victim(s), and vehicle license plate(s).
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