SALT LAKE CITY — Girls as young as 14 were coerced into performing sex acts for Utah men who patronized the back rooms of three Salt Lake area "massage" parlors in an criminal enterprise top law enforcement likened to the mob.
The arrest of four men — all undocumented immigrants — and the break-up of the sex ring is reflective of a rampant national problem that has not bypassed Utah, said Utah Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen.
"People in Utah need to know it is here," Torgensen said. "Unfortunately, this group had a group of men who were willing to patronize the business and make it successful. It's like any racketeering organization and no different than the mob."
Multiple law enforcement officers and agents on a local, state and federal level participating in the Attorney General's SECURE Strike Force hit three massage parlors this week and served a search warrant at a home in the Salt Lake Valley area. The parlors operated in Salt Lake City, Millcreek and South Salt Lake, Torgensen said.
Agents arrested Luis Daniel Arano-Hernandez, 29, Manuel Zapata-Sanchez, 42, David Ramirez-Jiminez, 24, and one man who has yet to be identified. They were each booked for investigation of exploiting prostitution and on an immigration hold. Arano-Hernandez was also booked for investigation of identity fraud and forgery.
Agents also detained 10 females, including minors, several of whom are undocumented aliens of undetermined identity.
Torgensen noted that while some of the females were mature women engaging in prostitution and well aware of the risks, others were young girls coerced into participating with the threat of deportation.
"These girls are victims of the men who paid them for sex, but also victims of the illegal aliens who exploited them in the sex trade," Torgensen said.
The sex trafficking strike force was re-established a couple of months ago and is planning on meeting monthly to ferret out additional illegal activity, Torgensen said, noting information will be pursued aggressively to stamp out such practices.
"People who come to our state, in this instance illegally, and set up a business based on a complete criminal model — if they are going to come here and do that, we are going to come after them and they will pay a hefty price," he said.
What is really troubling, he emphasized, is that such a business can exist here.
"These men are willing to go out and are willing to engage in this activity," Torgensen said. "If there was not this willingness to do it, there would not be a market for it."
Agents are currently withholding the names of patrons of the massage parlors pending further charges.