SAN DIEGO – Seventeen people were arrested Wednesday in California, Arizona and New Jersey under an indictment that accuses a San Diego-based street gang of running a vast prostitution ring.
The gang based in San Diego's increasingly gentrified North Park neighborhood operated a prostitution ring spanning 46 cities in 23 states, recruiting women and girls by promising luxurious lifestyles, prosecutors said. Gang members allegedly branded the women with tattoos and bar codes and traded them among themselves.
The indictment charges 24 San Diego residents, ages 22 to 36, with racketeering conspiracy. Prosecutors said they belong to a predominantly black gang called "BMS," which traces its origins to the early 1990s.
Four defendants were in custody before Wednesday's sweep by the FBI and San Diego police. Three others were at-large.
"The kind of sex trafficking described in this indictment is nothing less than modern-day slavery," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "Unfortunately, more gangs are expanding from traditional pursuits like drug dealing into this lucrative business."
The U.S. attorney's office said authorities have offered assistance to 60 female victims, including 11 children.
The gang allegedly recruited prostitutes on San Diego's El Cajon Boulevard or through social media. The indictment says the women and girls delivered their earnings to their pimps in exchange for protection, food, housing, clothing and cars.
"Pimps known for controlling their prostitutes through force were considered 'gorilla pimps,' while those who convinced their prostitutes to abide by the rules without violence are 'finesse pimps,'" the indictment states.
Many defendants were scheduled to make initial court appearances Thursday in San Diego. Court documents do not list defense attorneys.