CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Alamance County Sheriff's office says leads are pouring in as they search for four missing girls connected to a human trafficking investigation. The Sheriff says they have been investigating a case with ties to a local school in Charlotte.
A spokesperson explained a Nigerian teenager thought he was going to go to the Evelyn Mack Academy on Monroe Road, but instead was found in an Alamance County high school with a fraudulent visa.
The sheriff's office stressed the Charlotte school connection to the case does not mean the owner of the school had any knowledge of the activities associated with the couple they arrested, Aris Hines and Brandi Thomason.
Hines and Thomason were charged with felony common law obstruction of justice and obtaining property by false pretense.
Sheriff Terry Johnson said in a news conference Tuesday he believes the discovery of kids living in deplorable conditions at the couple's home is a part of a bigger organization.
Athletic trafficking is the act of promising a victim a scholarship or a promise of a better life to lure them away from their home. Like other human trafficking cases, money is the motive.
Justice Ministries in Charlotte is a non-profit that helps victims of human trafficking. The director of operations, Simon Arkley, said athletic trafficking is something to be concerned about beyond this current North Carolina case.
Justice Ministries said predators are everywhere, including athletic fields.
"A lot of people who come into the U.S. They come in through fake scholarships or through the promise of jobs right here in the U.S. that obviously never pan out and end up being a guise for trafficking," Arkley said.
Arkley said while the Alamance County case involves possible international victims, like the Nigerian student who thought he was going to live in Charlotte, athletic trafficking or human trafficking happens to American kids, too.
"What predators are doing is, they're using tactics to lure people away in order to traffic them. So, scholarships in particular athletic scholarships, or even the promise of a modeling job for young women. Things like that, they're all tools traffickers are using to draw young people away from their families to a place where they're much more likely to become a victim," Arkley said.
Arkley said as more people become aware of human trafficking, predators have to come up with different ways to lure teens away.
He encourages parents to think like a trafficker and know what your child is doing.
"If it's an athletic scholarship and it involves taking your child out of state for example putting them with people you never heard of or even if it's a modeling contract from someone you heard about at a mall that kind of stuff requires extra extra digging," Arkley said.
The Alamance County Sheriff's office said they are working with investigators outside of their jurisdiction because they are concerned about the safety of the missing children. Investigators are still trying to locate those students before pursuing more charges for Hines.
Hines and his girlfriend posted bond on the Alamance county charges Tuesday.