Human trafficking is happening in Palm Beach County

Girls brought in and forced into the sex trade

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - It's an ugly reality; Cash for sex with unwilling girls or young women at brothels throughout our area.

"It is modern day slavery," said Carmen Pino, an assistant special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "We thought we abolished slavery many years ago but what happened is it went underground. We now have people bought and sold like products."

He says girls, many from Mexico and many more from overseas, are lured to the U.S. with the promise of good jobs that result in dreams becoming nightmares. He says it's happening in Palm Beach County.

"We have a variety of different trafficking, we have people brought in to work in motels, hotels, and golf courses," said Pino.

"Girls brought in and forced into the sex trade that are often times raped 20-30 times a night at $20 to $30 dollars a trick."

A Florida couple, Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado, were sentenced to prison in 2010 after pleading guilty in a case involving workers herded together in a Boca Raton townhome.

"We had 40 Filipino workers brought into the U.S. by a staffing agency. They worked at various country clubs around Palm Beach County and these people were literally hidden in plain sight," said Pino.

He says Russian organized crime and Mexican cartels have footprints in this trade in our community.  Federal agents say they have busted dozens of human traffickers and rescued scores of victims, but piercing a veil of silence among those victims who are coerced, scared and disoriented remains a huge challenge.

"They have invisible bonds, chains, whether being beaten or afraid for their families back home, threats are being made," said Pino.

Human trafficking is the ugly reality agents say will only wither in the face of greater community awareness.

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