As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, police are sounding the alarms about the problem of children being sold to partiers for sex.
South Florida is a gateway for human trafficking, three of the region's top law enforcers say, ranking just behind New York and Los Angeles
"Kids do get trafficked into high profile areas where there are major sporting events, major music events or even the Academy Awards...because of the crowds that come in and the money involved," said John V. Gillies, FBI special agent in charge in Miami. "I'm not going to tell you there are tens of thousands of children trafficked into these areas. But there are enough that if we can save just one, it makes a huge difference."
Since 2003, more than 1,900 child sex trade victims have been rescued in the U.S., Gillies said. In South Florida, the FBI has 31 open cases where children were victims of sex trafficking, he said.
Gillies along with Lamberti and Carmen Pino, of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, spoke Thursday to Broward County business leaders to raise awareness about trafficking, both in child sex and illegal labor.
In 2010, when the Super Bowl was played in South Florida, a multi-agency task force arrested a Hawaiian man at a Miami Beach hotel after he brought a minor to engage in prostitution, among other charges. He was later sentenced for 21 years.
Pino said part of raising awareness about the crime is to explain the difference between the sex trade and trafficking.
"A 13-year-old is not a willing participant in prostitution," said Pino. "That's a victim."
Trafficking can begin when a homeless, runaway or kidnapped child who is already being sold for sex asks a friend to join her. Or a foreign victim could be recruited for modeling and is then forced into sex work, domestic servitude or restaurant, janitorial, sweatshop or farm labor to pay back the travel debt.
Victims can't simply flee. Gillies said traffickers will brand them with curling irons, lock them up or will isolate them from the public and family. They will also withhold passports, visas, or driver's licenses, threaten violence against victims or relatives and will not pay wages.
Last year, a federal and local police task force busted an Oakland Park bordello called the Boom Boom Room, where women and high school age girls would dance for male customers and were sold for sex.
Customers were given a 30-minute timer and a condom. One teenager told investigators she was paid $240 for the night, after she performed sex first with one man, then with another man and her cousin in the private home, according to a court document.
In December, James"Red"Mozie, was found guilty in federal court of 8 counts of child sex trafficking. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 28.
Not all trafficking involves sex.
Two owners of a Boca Raton staffing company pled guilty in 2010 for the forced labor of 39 Filipino nationals in country clubs and hotels. Federal prosecutors said once the victims arrived at the defendants' home, their passports were confiscated and they lived in crowded conditions without adequate food or drinking water or pay.
The workers were ordered not to leave the premises without permission or an escort, according to court records. If they complained, they were threatened with arrest and deportation, prosecutors said.
The company owners were each sentenced to more than four years in prison.
Lamberti wants residents to call law enforcement if they see signs of potential abuse, perhaps a young teen with a man's name tattooed on her neck, or a boy at a hotel with an adult and no luggage.
The law enforcers' talk was also a plea for continued help from lawyers to represent victims pro bono at court, doctors to provide care and churches and corporations to aid with shelter, jobs and support for groups like the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, which works out of the Broward Sheriff's Office.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is supporting separate enforcement and safe harbor bills moving through both houses of the state legislature. The issue is a hot topic with other attorneys general, said Bondi, who became involved after visting a recovery center at Kristi House in Miami.
"When I learned how many girls they help heal from the devastating effects of human trafficking, I recognized the need for stronger laws to stop human trafficking in Florida," Bondi said by email.
If passed, new state laws would lengthen prison sentences for traffickers or smugglers to match federal guidelines and would expand police authority for surveillance and property seizure. It would also provide more training for police, judges and prosecutors.
Other proposed laws would require treatment and housing for victims and give police discretion over arrests of child sex trafficking victims.