MIAMI – A human trafficking task force operating in Florida could be a national model because it focuses on more than just investigation and prosecution, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the group Thursday.
Rosenstein said in remarks to the South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force that it's equally important to focus on victims to help them recover and encourage them to testify if necessary. The 300-plus member group includes at least 10 nongovernmental organizations that provide such things as temporary housing, therapy and legal assistance.
"What we've found is in too many cases, when a victim was identified, there was no support and structure. And the victim wasn't available to testify," Rosenstein said. "Prosecution is an important thing to do, but it's not the only thing. We're hoping to replicate this model all around the country."
Dr. Austin Jelani, a psychologist at Miami's Camillus House, said on a given night the homeless center has about 1,000 people spending the night. Many are victims of human trafficking and need all types of therapy, services and support to recover.
"We're helping these individuals rebuild their lives. We've helped them move on to jobs and permanent housing," Jelani said.
Rosenstein says the Justice Department prosecuted 553 human trafficking cases across the country in 2017. Many times it involves forced prostitution of both adults and children, and also forced labor that is a form of modern-day slavery.
In South Florida, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg said since 2010 there have been 92 offenders prosecuted in 58 human trafficking cases. These cases collectively involved the victimization of more than 75 survivors, he said.
"They don't know any geographic boundaries and the depravity of the conduct knows no limits," Greenberg said.
Recent Florida cases include:
—The conviction and life prison sentence for Christopher Glenn, found guilty by a jury of exploiting and trafficking in children while working as a U.S. government contractor in Honduras.
— A prison sentence of more than 31 years for Ricky Jermain Atkins, who used his position as an overnight shift mentor at a Florida Keys children's shelter to force a 15- and 16-year-old girl to work as prostitutes for him at a Miami-area hotel.
—A prison term of six years for 44-year-old Agustin Mendez-Vazquez, who pleaded guilty along with his son to obtaining forced labor and conspiracy charges by using coercion and threats against migrant workers at tomato farms in the Homestead area.
"We go after the predators and rescue the victims," said FBI agent James Lewis, who heads the bureau's efforts to combat violent crimes against children in the Miami area.