San Diego gang members got rich off a violent and cruel, cross-country prostitution ring that treated women as slaves, even branding them with gang tattoos and bar codes, said law enforcement authorities who have arrested 24 gang members not only in San Diego, but in Arizona and as far away as New Jersey.
According the U.S. attorney's office and reported by The Associated Press, members of San Diego's Black MOB and Skanless gangs, operating out of San Diego's North Park neighborhood, recruited women from the city's prostitution-ridden El Cajon Boulevard as well as from social media sites.
The gangs would promise the women luxury lifestyles of champagne and endless parties. Once recruited, however, the women would be forced into prostitution with threats of — and actual — violence.
But the case wasn't only about busting the ringleaders and seizing their treasure trove of high-priced possessions, including a fleet of luxury vehicles, flat screen television sets and more than 50 pairs of expensive Air Jordan sneakers — the case was also a rescue operation.
The investigation uncovered 60 victimized women in San Diego, including 11 underage girls some as young as 15, according to San Diego's Channel 6 News.
"Together with our law enforcement partners, we have rescued scores of sex trafficking victims from the grips of gangsters and we have restored a higher level of safety to the gang's operational base – the community of North Park - and beyond," said Southern Distrct of California U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy at a San Diego press conference announcing Wednesday's indictments of the gang members, and quoted by The Arizona Republic.
The indictments listed 10 incidents occurring in Arizona involving women forced into prostitution from Nevada and California then sent to work in Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix.
"The kind of sex trafficking described in this indictment is nothing less than modern-day slavery," said Duffy.
The federal prosecutor pointed out that while the case was not limited to San Diego, it was also not only about prostitution. Other crimes allegedly committed by the gang members include, "drug distribution, robbery, murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes," she said.
The gang members would openly boast about their activities in YouTube videos as well as on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook, according to the indictment.
In conjunction with the indictment, police served a search warrant on Lavish Tattoo Parlor located on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego. According to law enforcement, the gang members would mark women as property with tattoos.
The investigation into the nationwide ring has been underway for about a year, starting with what at the time appeared to be routine arrest of a prostitute and her pimp. But what cops learned from that bust tipped them off to the existence of the vastly larger, well-organized San Diego-based criminal operation.