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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Prostitution sting yields 14 arrests, two rescues

Operation Cross Country national effort

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A nationwide sting to crack down on sex trafficking netted the arrests in Clark County of six suspected pimps, eight suspected women prostitutes and the rescue of two underage girls over the weekend, authorities said.

Vancouver police officers and Clark County sheriff’s deputies took part in the FBI’s Operation Cross Country V sting on Friday, the second such year local law enforcement agencies have contributed to the operation.

The 14 arrests were among a total of 33 apprehensions in the Vancouver-Portland metro area between Thursday and Saturday. The six accused pimps arrested in Clark County were among nine in this area, according to numbers released by the FBI’s Portland office.

Vancouver police Lt. John Chapman said this year’s operation led to the arrests of more pimps and adult prostitutes than last year, a sign of increasing awareness and work among law enforcement to uncover Vancouver’s underworld of sex trafficking.

“The more we look, the more we keep finding it,” Chapman said.

Four of the alleged pimps, Lonzie L. Golden, 35; Andre M. Miller, 35; Darcy D. Thomas, 40; and Dion E. Weeks, 30, made first appearances Monday in Clark County Superior Court. Of the remaining two suspects, one was arrested on unrelated charges and is being investigated on suspicion of promoting prostitution and the other suspect was arrested on unrelated charges and is being investigated on suspicion of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

All of them, except for Miller, were being held in jail on suspicion of second-degree promoting prostitution and had bail set at $20,000; Miller was being held on suspicion of pimping a child and had bail set at $75,000.

As part of the sting, local police used a house in an undisclosed location in the Vancouver area to draw prostitutes, Chapman said. An undercover officer first trolled online websites for ads and arranged “dates” with prostitutes at the house. When the prostitutes arrived and discussed details about the transaction, officers would arrest the prostitute and the pimp, who drove the women to the house, the lieutenant said.

Underage girls weren’t arrested. One of the girls was released to her mother after the home was deemed a safe environment, Chapman said, and the other girl was placed in protective custody. By federal initiative, a minor is considered not old enough to consent to sex trafficking and is treated as a victim.

“The ultimate goal is to rescue girls who are prostituted underage,” he said.

According to court documents, Miller was allegedly pimping a 17-year-old girl and taking all of the money. The girl told investigators that she only prostitutes when she and Miller are low on money, adding that he takes care of her.

In the arrest of Darcy Thomas, a female alleged pimp, police said she allegedly posted a classified advertisement of an 18-year-old girl, which was answered by an undercover officer. Thomas allegedly then took the 18-year-old to the sting house. Thomas later denied any involvement in the case.

Court documents did not reveal the circumstances that led to the arrests of Golden and Weeks.

Sting in 40 cities

Nationally, 69 children caught in sexual slavery were rescued and nearly 885 others, including 99 pimps, were arrested as part of the operation in 40 cities, according to the FBI’s Washington, D.C. office.

Locally, the Clark County Department of Children and Family Services, Clark County Juvenile Probation and YWCA Clark County assisted law enforcement with the operation.

The fight against prostitution has gathered steam statewide recently. Last year, a bill passed that toughened penalties for pimps and johns of underage girls. Former Congresswoman Linda Smith, the founder of Shared Hope International, a Vancouver organization that targets global sexual slavery, was instrumental in that legislation and also key in educating local law enforcement officials and prosecutors about the problem at home.

A number of local police have undergone national training and a Vancouver police detective has since become part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force aimed at the issue.

“I think there was a welling up because of a few people who said, ‘I wanna do something,’ ” Smith said Monday. “From that, our community responded.”

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.

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