HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A prostitution investigation at a Connecticut casino led authorities to a 16-year-old girl, allegedly taken to a hotel last month for pre-arranged sex with a customer. The Rhode Island woman accused of taking her there was charged with human trafficking.
The case highlights child sex trafficking that officials say is pervasive across the state and the nation. At a forum Wednesday in Hartford devoted to the issue, officials urged continued collaboration among government branches and agencies to fight a scourge they described as modern-day slavery.
"The reality is that as society we need to do as much as we possibly can to end that misery for as many people as we can, and discover it as early as possible," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. He said Connecticut has had 195 reported cases of child sex trafficking over the last six years.
A spokesman for the FBI, which was involved in the investigation at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, said the casino atmosphere may attract prostitution more than some other places, but such cases appear to be growing everywhere.
"There are a lot of vulnerable kids that fall prey to these people," Connecticut FBI spokesman Dan Curtin said.
Kaieema Gadson, 24, of Providence, was arrested on Dec. 19 at the Two Trees Inn at Foxwoods. She was charged with human trafficking and promoting prostitution. No phone number was listed at the home address for Gadson, who posted bond and is due back in court on Feb. 4.
Authorities did not say whether Gadson has any relation to the girl, who was taken to a hospital for medical evaluation.
A task force made up of state police, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Mashantucket Pequot tribal police department began the investigation at the hotel and at Foxwoods after learning of "pervasive use" of websites to solicit prostitution, according to a preliminary state police report. Agents identified several people engaging in prostitution, according to the report.
The chief of Mashantucket police, William Dittman, said the tribe is dedicated to ensuring all laws are followed and that he did not know of any other similar cases at Foxwoods or other tribal-owned properties.
"I'm sure it didn't develop here but it led here," Dittman said of the trafficking investigation.
The Foxwoods investigation began with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Boston. He said casinos worldwide are areas of concern for potential trafficking because a culture of gambling and drinking can lend itself to criminal activity.
The state Department of Children and Families hosted Wednesday's forum at the Connecticut Convention Center, which was attended by people including state and federal law enforcement, medical providers and school officials. It coincides with National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said child sex trafficking is of particular concern to her agency in part because many of the victims are or were once in the state's child welfare system.
"This issue is one that together we can help prevent," she said.
Connecticut has passed several laws in recent years to help fight child sex trafficking, requiring that victims who are minors be referred to DCF rather than face prostitution charges and strengthening criminal penalties for convicted traffickers.
The FBI has declared child prostitution a "persistent threat" and says a joint effort by federal, state and local authorities has resulted in more than 2,700 children being rescued and more than 1,350 people being convicted since 2003.