Cover Story: Human trafficking in Charlotte

Published: Jan. 12, 2012 at 12:26 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Mexican National living in Charlotte is facing prison time for running an interstate prostitution ring out of a home he turned into a brothel.

On Wednesday, 40-year old Filemon Guzman-Martinez pleaded guilty in federal court to multiple charges.  He faces up to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors say clients paid $25 for sexual encounters with women from around the country who would then move to other locations.

Guzman-Martinez kept $10 from every transaction and the prostitutes kept $15.

The guilty plea highlights the growing international problem of human trafficking, a problem that is happening in our area.

In Charlotte there's a human trafficking task force that's having some success.

They call themselves a rapid response team.  It's an effort to bring a number of government and community agencies together to address the problem.  And they're about raising awareness of human trafficking in our community.

A prostitute enslaved in the sex trade.

The cleaning lady next door - who could be a victim of involuntary servitude.

Farm workers - forced to work the fields - victims of forced labor.

Human trafficking can take many forms.  And it's not just happening in other places in the world but right here in Charlotte.

U.S. Attorney for Western North Carolina Anne Tompkins says, "Victims of human trafficking many times are hiding in plain sight. We need the eyes and ears of people in this community to help us identify potential human trafficking victims."

Inside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Wednesday leaders in the effort to prosecute human trafficking and protect and prevent the next victims held a news conference to raise awareness of what they say is a growing problem.

"We don't really know the exact numbers," said Charity Magnuson, founder and president of NC Stop Human Trafficking.

Since it is a hidden crime and its victims are reluctant to come forward, there are no exact numbers.  But estimates are that up to 27 million people are in slavery around the world.

About 20,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.  And as many as 200,000 American citizens are at high-risk for trafficking per year in the sex trade.

"This perhaps is the greatest atrocity I've ever seen. It is modern day slavery," said Brock Nicholson who heads Department of Homeland Security's Investigations in the Carolinas and Georgia.

"The traffickers have many things on their side.  The victims often times don't speak English. They have their documents. They often use psychological measures," he told us.

And it can happen to domestic victims as well.

Neet Childs is a success story.  The owner of Neet's Sweets which operates out of this bakery supply shop in south Charlotte.

As a teenager Neet Childs became lured into a sex-trafficking ring in Charlotte.  She managed to get out.

Today she uses the profits from her bakery to mentor young girls and provide opportunities that can free them from a lifestyle they're trapped in.

"To be able to recognize a situation where they may be being exploited and thinking someone is their friend. They may not know they're being manipulated," said Childs.

The Charlotte Human Trafficking Task Force is being credited with helping rescue nine victims and arresting more than ten traffickers within the last year and a half in the state.

Federal law protects victims of human trafficking who've been brought to the U.S. from being deported.  Congress is considering reauthorizing that bill this year.

Filemon Guzman-Martinez, the Mexican National who pleaded guilty today to running a brothel out of his home, will be sentenced later this year.

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