Police have arrested several teenage gang members accused of forcing girls as young as 12 into a prostitution ring.

After befriending the girls and getting them high, the Varrio Central gang members took them to some regular customers and then sought other men by trolling apartment complexes, offering the girls' services for $50, Lt. Ken Dean said Tuesday.

The gang apparently targeted runaways and other girls with unstable homes, and if the girls refused to have sex for money the members beat and sexually assaulted them and threatened their families, Dean said.

"The age of the victims and suspects is the surprising part of it," Dean said. "To have such young individuals in a somewhat organized business, a forced prostitution ring, is somewhat alarming and such a horrendous crime against the 12- to 16-year-old girls."

Detectives found five victims, ages 12 to 16, but believe there may be more. Those girls are back with relatives or in other safe places, he said, declining to elaborate.

A teenage girl who may be a gang member helped the group by going to the victims' houses to pick them up under the pretense of going shopping or to a movie, which fooled the parents, said Lt. Dan Draper.

It's unclear how much money was generated, but the gang members spent it on other illegal activities, police said.

"It seems the primary motivation was just to continue doing drugs and alcohol," Dean said.

Four gang members were arrested Jan. 3 after they had taken a 14-year-old to a convenience store to have sex with the owner, a regular customer of the prostitution ring, police said.

Diego Rodriguez, 19, was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, aggravated kidnapping, compelling prostitution and trafficking of a person. Rodriguez, who does not yet have an attorney, remained jailed Tuesday on more than $170,000 bond, and police said they were trying to verify his immigration status.

Martin Reyes, 17, was charged with two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity, aggravated kidnapping, the trafficking of a person and marijuana possession. Reyes remained jailed on $150,000 bond, and his attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Two boys ages 16 and 15 were arrested two weeks ago. The 15-year-old girl accused of helping the gang was arrested Monday. They will be in the juvenile court system, and information on their cases could not be obtained.

Police expect more arrests as the investigation continues, Dean said.

The convenience store owner, Chang Hyeong Lee, 56, was charged with aggravated kidnapping, engaging in organized criminal activity and prostitution. He remained jailed Tuesday with bail set at $300,000. His attorney could not immediately be reached.

Police discovered the prostitution ring after a woman was caught in August in a neighborhood allegedly offering men sex for $50 with a 14-year-old girl. Police have declined to reveal the relationship between Debra Flores Castillo, 33, who was charged with compelling prostitution, and the teen gang members.

She was released on a $20,000 bond. Her attorney, Mark Scott, declined to comment.

Jorge Martinez, accused of paying for sex with the teen in August, remained jailed on $10,000 bond Tuesday on a sexual assault of a child charge. His attorney did not immediately return a call.