POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 10, 2014
Fourteen people accused by federal prosecutors of involvement in a street gang's sprawling prostitution ring that spanned dozens of cities and states entered not-guilty pleas Thursday.
Authorities say members of a San Diego-based gang lured women and girls with promises of luxurious lifestyles. They say the dozens of victims, spread across 46 cities in 23 states, were instead branded with tattoos, passed from gang member to gang member and forced to sell themselves.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy announced the indictment Wednesday, charging 24 San Diego residents, ages 22 to 36, with racketeering and conspiracy.
Fourteen of the 17 defendants arrested Wednesday in raids by police and FBI agents appeared in a San Diego courtroom and were ordered held without bail by Magistrate Judge Barbara Major. Two others were arrested in Arizona, and one was taken into custody in New Jersey.
Four other defendants were already in custody, and three remained at large.
The indictment alleges that women and girls were recruited from city streets or social media, then forced to deliver their earnings to pimps in exchange for protection, food, housing, clothing and cars.
The pimps took the trafficking victims to Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states, according to the indictment.
The U.S. attorney's office said officials have offered assistance to 60 female victims, including 11 children.