ATLANTA (WALB) - A year-long investigation has found its conclusion as Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced that eight people were arrested in an Albany child sex trafficking and gang investigation.
About the investigation:
On October 23, 2019, the Albany Police Department (APD) requested assistance from the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes (CEACC) Unit to investigate child sex trafficking in Albany.
On August 2, 2019, APD got a report of the rape and commercial sexual exploitation of a 16-year-old female. The victim told police that she was trafficked for almost two months, from June to August 2019, in Albany.
The victim said she was able to run away from her traffickers, according to the GBI.
“During this investigation, it was discovered that the juvenile victim was posted numerous times on one specific website (Skip the Games) as an adult female,” the GBI said in a release. “The juvenile victim was advertised for sexual interaction in exchange for money. The juvenile victim was advertised by multiple members of the Inglewood Family Gang (IFG) Bloods.”
WATCH THE ANNOUNCEMENT BELOW:
The GBI said gang members made arrangements for the victim to “have sexual encounters with numerous men over the almost two-month period in exchange for money.”
The agency said these arrangements were known as “plays.”
The child trafficking happened in multiple areas in Albany, which included hotels, motels, vehicles and residences, according to the GBI.
“Additional members of this street gang participated in the trafficking by providing locations for the ‘plays,’ transportation to the ‘plays,’ and by being onsite facilitators while the victim was trafficked for sexual purposes,” the release said. “This investigation revealed that the proceeds from the child sex trafficking were being used to finance the gang and the illegal activities of that gang.”
The investigation was a coordinated effort involving the GBI’s CEACC Unit, the GBI’s Southwestern Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Albany Police Department.
A number of people were arrested for their roles in the sex trafficking and activity, according to the GBI.
- Korina Johnson, 18, was charged with aggravated sodomy, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO).
- Robert Wingfield, Jr., 19, was charged with trafficking of person for labor or sexual servitude, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
- Jeston Yates, 29, was charged with trafficking of person for labor or sexual servitude, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
- Ronaldo Patterson, 29, was charged with trafficking of person for labor or sexual servitude, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
- Johnny Shanard Howard, Jr., 33, was charged with trafficking of person for labor or sexual servitude, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
- Tre’Shawn Malik Smith, 20, was charged with trafficking of person for labor or sexual servitude, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
- Byrant Terrell Hooker, 32, was charged with violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
- Jamie Rosier, 30, was charged with trafficking of person for labor or sexual servitude, violation of Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and RICO.
On Monday, several charged in the investigation were arrested.
Korina Johnson was arrested in the 500 block of South Madison Street in Albany. Johnny Shanard Howard was arrested at Briarwood Apartments, 2415 Briarwood Drive, in Albany. Robert Wingfield was arrested in the 500 block of Cochran Avenue in Albany. Jeston Yates was arrested at 2015 North Slappey Blvd in Albany. Johnson, Howard, Yates and Wingfield were all taken to the Dougherty County Jail. Ronaldo Patterson turned himself into the Albany Police Department.
Tre’Shawn Smith, Bryant Hooker and Jamie Rosier were already incarcerated on unrelated charges when they were served with arrest warrants related to this investigation, according to the GBI. Smith is currently at the Dougherty County Jail. Rosier is currently at the Coffee County Correctional Facility. Hooker is currently at the Jones County Jail.
“The damages of human trafficking are difficult to repair and these young victims need plenty of assistance in getting their lives back while regaining their self-esteem,” Michael Persley, the Albany police chief, said. “I will continue to pledge my support in fighting human trafficking while using all resources available to bring to justice those who prey on other human beings for the sole purpose of financial gain. I am thankful for Director (Vic) Reynolds and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for their efforts in combatting this detestable and devaluing crime.”
Also on Monday, Debbie Garner, GBI Special Agent in Charge with GBI’s CEACC Unit and the commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, gave WALB News 10 an update on the victim.
“She is safe,” said Garner.
Garner said the 16-year-old girl is getting help and support from people she knows.
Agents with the GBI said multiple juvenile victims were freed during this investigation.
“I wouldn’t expect any more from our investigation unless they come forward themselves,” Garner told WALB.
No additional information on the victims could be released.
“Our main priority, even before arrests, is protecting the victim,” Garner said.
The GBI said it is continuing to investigate “but it will move to the prosecution phase.”
Garner said this is a very “critical case” but not something common in Albany.
“So, we haven’t had too many child sex trafficking cases in that area, but we have had child pornography cases in that area. I’ll say it is a problem throughout the state,” Garner told WALB.
Tifton-based advocacy center Ruth’s Cottage and the Patticake House provide help for victims of sex trafficking. Kayla Myers is the sexual assault program and shelter manager at Ruth’s Cottage and the Patticake House.
“It tugs at all of our hearts when we hear that there’s been another victim of this horrible crime,” said Myers
Staff said they don’t see as many victims of sex trafficking compared to other child abuse cases.
“I am not able to comment on this specific case, on it, but what I can say with it is that we’re always here to help,” Myers said.
If you or someone you know needs help, Ruth’s Cottage and the Patticake House are available 24/7 at (229) 388-1541.