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Quinlen Atkinson Sentenced for Human Trafficking

Weber County, Utah  December 20, 2017 –Attorney General Sean Reyes today announced the guilty plea and sentencing of Quinlen Atkinson to human trafficking.  Atkinson pled guilty to Human Trafficking, a second degree felony. Atkinson was arrested and charged by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, SECURE Strike Force, last year as part of its ongoing commitment to eradicate human trafficking in Utah. He will serve up to fifteen years in prison.
 
“Exploiting and abusing young people in this way is one of the most repulsive acts imaginable,” said Attorney General Reyes. “I want to thank the brave men and women of our Attorney General’s Office, especially Assistant Attorney General Dan Strong who brought the charges and to our elite investigative unit, the Utah SECURE Strikeforce, for bringing this predator to justice. I also want to invite the community’s prayers on behalf of the victims and their families for a recovery that will help them reclaim their lives and their innocence.”
 
Atkinson came to the attention of authorities after they received reports that he had recruited two high school students—one 17 years old and the other 18 years old—to work as part of his commercial sex operation. Witnesses reported that Atkinson substantially managed the commercial sex operation, including transporting both girls within and outside of the state for the purposes of commercial sex. Atkinson was alleged to have kept most or all money earned in this operation, despite promising the girls he recruited that he would invest the money and purchase them a house.
 
Atkinson was sentenced to prison by the 2nd District Court for Weber County. He will serve between one and fifteen years in prison, as determined by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
 
The Utah Attorney General’s Office administers and coordinates the SECURE Strike Force partnership with the Utah Department of Public Safety and county, federal and city law enforcement agencies to combat violent and other major felony crimes associated with illegal immigration and human trafficking.
 
If you believe you have a tip about human trafficking, please call the tip line at 801-200-3443.
 

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EDITOR’S NOTES: 
 
1. The mission of the Utah Attorney General SECURE Strike Force is to carefully target major fraud, organized gun, drug and human trafficking, detect creation of fraudulent government identification and other documents, and prosecute these crimes with specialized investigators and resources and a dedicated Assistant Attorney General prosecutor.
 
2. The SECURE Strike Force is an integral part of the Utah Trafficking in Person’s Task Force.
 
3. Read more about the SECURE Strike Force here.

Attorney General’s Office Announces Human Trafficking Arrests by ICAC and SECURE Strike Force

SALT LAKE CITY February 23, 2017 – In cooperation with local and national law enforcement agencies today, the Utah Attorney General’s Office (AGO) announced in a press conference the arrests of a number of individuals on human trafficking and child sex exploitation charges. The following contains information on the arrests, as well as cases studies and follow-up information on questions asked during the conference. The arrests are related to cases where victims of human trafficking were trafficked inside Utah. Some cases involved minors and some crossed state lines. As a result of the multi-agency action, involving 25 agencies, there were 16 arrests including two prior sex offenders and one parolee, and three children were rescued.

The Utah Attorney General’s office does not handle every case where a child is alleged to have been involved in sex trafficking. Cases are investigated and referred to other prosecutor’s offices throughout the state in the jurisdictions where the case arose. For various reasons, the Utah AGO cannot give the number of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions that would accurately convey the breadth of this crime throughout the state.

The Utah AGO office possesses the specific training, expertise, and resources needed for addressing human trafficking that allows the AGO to devote the time and attention needed to build these complicated cases. For this reason, many but not all of these cases are referred to the AGO for help. Some of the Sexual Exploitation of Minor cases involved the manufacturing of child pornography. Several of the suspects traveled across the state and state line to sexually abuse children.

Some of the Sexual Exploitation of Minor cases involved the manufacturing of child pornography. Several of the suspects traveled across the state and state line to sexually abuse children.

Charges filed include:

  • Rape of a Child (1st Degree Felony)
  • Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (2nd Degree Felony)
  • Enticing a Minor over the Internet (2nd Degree Felony)
  • Dealing in Harmful Material to a Child (3rd Degree Felony)
  • Failure to Register as a Sex Offender (3rd Degree Felony)
  • Criminal Charges (cont.)
  • Criminal Conspiracy (3rd Degree Felony)
  • Possession of Controlled Substance with Intent to Distribute (2rd
  • Degree Felony)
  • Multiple other A and B Misdemeanors

Most cases had multiple counts of the same charge.

Partner agencies in the arrests include:

  • Adult Probation and Parole
  • Bountiful Police Department
  • Clearfield Police Department
  • Davis County Sheriff’s Office
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Enforcement and Removal Operations
  • Heber City Police Department
  • Homeland Security Investigations
  • Ogden Police Department
  • Orem City Police Department
  • Park City Police Department
  • Pleasant Grove Police Department
  • Provo City Police Department
  • Sevier County Sheriff’s Office
  • South Salt Lake City Police Department
  • Summit County Sheriff’s Office
  • Syracuse Police Department
  • Tooele City Police Department
  • Unified Police Department
  • United States Marshal’s Office
  • Utah County Attorney’s Office
  • Utah County Sheriff’s Office
  • Vernal Police Department
  • Weber County Sheriff’s Office

The prosecuting agencies were the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

Cases where trafficking of a child may not result in charges for human trafficking

There are a few reasons why cases where children were trafficked for sex may not result in charges for human trafficking of a child:

  • Human Trafficking of a Child is a new area of criminal justice. It was only added to the Utah criminal code in 2015. In the old model of viewing these cases, many times the child being sex trafficked was arrested for prostitution and adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile justice system. Only in the last year did Utah pass a “safe harbor” provision for children engaged in the sex trade that clarifies they should be treated as victims and referred to services.
  • While the safe harbor provision has helped protect child victims of sex trafficking from improper criminal charges, the criminal justice field at large still has a long way to go in shifting from viewing this crime into a human trafficking lens. In some jurisdictions, these cases are still investigated through the lens of prostitution and not human trafficking. Sometimes suspects are charged with exploiting prostitution even in cases where children were sex trafficked.
  • Another component of the safe harbor philosophy is that we should avoid re-victimizing those preyed on by sex traffickers by pressuring them to participate in the criminal justice process. In our office, we often prosecute defendants who we have reason to believe are traffickers with other related offenses, either because the victim does not want to participate in our criminal case or to protect them from having to do so if we can secure justice through other charges.

Case studies and updates on previous human trafficking arrests

Among the cases reported on today is the AGO’s prosecution of William Piol Makuei: Mauei was charged with three counts of 1st Degree Felony Rape of a Child after his DNA was found to match the newborn child of a girl who was impregnated before she turned 14. He later admitted to having sex with the child victim. This case arose from a human trafficking tip and ensuing investigation

The following two cases were not included in today’s briefing, but are provided here as updates to arrests previous reported.

  • Charles Daryl Kelley:  Kelley was convicted in July 2016 of Attempted Human Trafficking of a Child, after he attempted to recruit a 15-year-old girl into a commercial sex operation he was running out of a motel in Midvale. 
  • Quinlen Nathaniel Atkinson: Last April, Mr. Atkinson was charged with 1st Degree Felony Human Trafficking of a Child, 1st Degree Felony Aggravated Exploitation of Prostitution Involving a Child, and several other felony charges based on allegations that he was running a commercial sex operation from Ogden to Idaho and Southern Utah. Both girls he is accused of manipulating into joining his operation were high school students. At the time of the known offenses, one of the girls had recently turned 18 and the other was 17 years old. This case is awaiting trial in Weber County.

Tip Line Numbers

Individuals with tips are encouraged to contact the Utah Attorney General’s tip lines:

The PowerPoint Presentation utilized at the press conference is embedded below.

 

Utah Attorney General’s Office Announces Guilty Plea in Bountiful Human Trafficking Case

Davis County, Utah  February 18, 2017 – The Office of the Utah Attorney General announced today the guilty plea on Thursday of Todd Jeremy Rettenberger to charges relating to human trafficking and related crimes.  Rettenberger was sentenced to one to fifteen years in prison for second-degree felony human trafficking and zero to five years for third-degree felony exploitation of prostitution. The sentences will run concurrently.

“The victims of this trafficker were girls, barely older than teens, forced into prostitution against their will and compelled to stay in “the life” by threats against their well-being and against their families. I am thrilled they will not have to endure a trial and be forced to relive the atrocities perpetrated upon them.  It is imperative that we now keep these survivors safe, avoid revictimizing them, empower them with resources and do everything we can to help them heal and reclaim their lives,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “Importantly, this case demonstrates that human trafficking is real. It exists in Utah as it does across the nation and around the world. It takes many forms and can happen anywhere.

“I offer my sincerest thanks and congratulations to Assistant Attorney General Dan Strong who brought the charges and to our elite investigative unit, the Utah SECURE Strikeforce, for their work on this case. I also want to thank and acknowledge Detective Aric Barker of the Bountiful City Police Department, his agency, and his chief, for their efforts to bring this human trafficker to justice and protect these victims.  Lastly, I reiterate my deep appreciation to each federal, state, county and city law enforcement agency that works side-by-side with the Utah AGO every day to disrupt human trafficking and related crimes in all their insidious forms.”

Rettenberger was charged in April of 2016 after police received reports that he was running a commercial sex operation out of Bountiful, along the Wasatch Front, and into other states. The Utah Attorney General’s Office’s SECURE Strike Force in conjunction with the Bountiful City Police Department investigated the allegations and found two women who were victimized by Rettenberger as part of this operation.  The women alleged that Rettenberger used forceful and coercive tactics, including threats of violence, physical violence, exploitation of their drug dependencies, and financial coercion.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office administers and coordinates the SECURE Strike Force partnership with the Utah Department of Public Safety and county, federal and city law enforcement agencies to combat violent and other major felony crimes associated with illegal immigration and human trafficking.

The mission of the Utah Attorney General SECURE Strike Force is to carefully target major fraud, organized gun, drug and human trafficking, detect creation of fraudulent government identification and other documents, and prosecute these crimes with specialized investigators and resources and a dedicated Assistant Attorney General prosecutor. The SECURE Strike Force works closely with the Utah Trafficking in Person’s Task Force. Learn more about the SECURE Strike Force here

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Utah Attorney General

Attorney General Reyes Testifies in Support of HB199

Proposed law would fight the trafficking of adopted children

SALT LAKE CITY February 16, 2017 – A bill before the Utah legislature would implement safeguards to protect adopted children from “rehoming,” the illegal practice of adoptive parents giving away their adopted children away to strangers without the usual home study or background checks performed to protect children. At the invitation of the US Department of State, the Utah Attorney General’s Office joined national a committee two years ago tasked with addressing the illegal phenomenon and exploring model legislation for other states around the country. The bill, HB 199, was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation.

“Getting the bill out of committee is a positive step in the right direction,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “This bill isn’t designed to be overly punitive towards adoptive parents.  We know the vast majority of adoptive parents have only the most noble of intentions when bringing adopted children into their families. But the reality is that many adopted kids coming from overseas environments have been victims of terrible abuse in war-torn countries or experienced severe trauma from the horrors of torture, famine, abuse or other atrocities.  Some adoptive parents who become overwhelmed by the cultural, emotional and psychological challenges of highly traumatized children, panic and end up desperate.  In too many situations, parents have literally given away their children to strangers like they might with old furniture, beginning with an online communication or transaction.

“This bill provides these adoptive parents more resources to face such challenges or find another adoptive family through legal processes rather than simply giving away, selling or abandoning their adopted child.  Without a law at the federal and state level prohibiting this kind of transfer of custody, thousands of kids will continue to be placed into the hands of human traffickers, pimps, rapists and other predators. In short, this bill is absolutely necessary to protect children and assist adoptive families. It allows the state to better educate and inform adoptive parents going into an adoption, empowering them to be more informed and prepared. And it more effectively keeps children out of the hands of potential abusers and predators.”

The practice of rehoming, facilitated by websites that connect overwhelmed adoptive parents with strangers, was discovered by journalists. The Utah Attorney General’s Office has supported the effort to combat this form of human trafficking along with other members of the State Department committee, including the U.S. Department of Justice; the U.S. Department of Human Services, Children’s Bureau; and the administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. By passing this HB199, the Utah Legislature will close the legal loopholes that have allowed the practice of rehoming to flourish.

Representative Merrill Nelson’s bill, with the support of the Utah Attorney General’s Office, takes a largely non-punitive approach to the problem of rehoming. The bill assures that, before committing to the adoption, prospective adoptive parents get accurate information about the specific child’s history and training about the challenging kinds of behavior adopted children can exhibit. The new law would make clear that sending an adoptive child to live permanently with a stranger outside the legal system is prohibited. Further, Utah Child Protective Services would have the authority to investigate the living situation of a child who has been sent to live with strangers without a legal transfer of custody.

The bill language was developed in cooperation with the Utah Adoption Council, which also voted unanimously to support the bill.

“The Utah Adoption Council supports the efforts of the Attorney General to address the phenomenon of rehoming,” said Larry Jenkins, Standards and Practice Chair at the Utah Adoption Council. “Families with high needs children need to know what options are available to them, and this bill is a model for other states and a giant step forward towards helping these families.”

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Utah Attorney General's Office

Utah AG Reyes Statement on Charles Kelly Sentencing

SALT LAKE CITY July 18, 2016 – This week the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) announced the sentencing of Charles Daryl Kelley for Attempted Human Trafficking.

“Whether it is one case or dozens, we want human traffickers and anyone who abuses men, women, or children to know that the Utah Attorney General’s Office investigators and prosecutors will pursue them aggressively,” said Attorney General Reyes.  “We appreciate the support of Utah’s communities in combating this evil and encourage anyone who has information regarding suspicious conduct to report it to law enforcement immediately.”

In conjunction with the SECURE Strike Force, the AGO prosecuted and convicted Kelley of Attempted Human Trafficking for attempting to recruit a 15-year-old girl to work in a commercial sex operation. Kelley traveled to Utah from Nevada with two adult women in order to profit from commercial sex at a motel in Midvale. While engaged in that business, in an attempt to recruit a local Utah teenager to work for him he approached a girl in a parking lot and asked if she wanted to “make some money.” Although he did not specify what he meant by this, investigators found substantial evidence that Kelley was engaged in a commercial sex operation at the motel. The child and her mother reported Kelley’s question before it could go any further, and Kelley was arrested.

Kelley’s conviction for attempting to recruit this child to commercial sex work reflects the position of the AGO and the SECURE Strike Force that even an attempt to obtain a child for commercial sex in Utah will result in arrest and prosecution to the full extent of the law.

Kelley will serve one year in custody and three years of supervised probation, a sentence consistent with his conduct in this case. Attempted Human Trafficking is a 2nd Degree Felony that carries a prison term of 1-15 years. The AGO agreed to recommend a sentence equal to the low-end of this term because Kelley did not succeed in obtaining the 15-year-old for commercial sex, but only solicited the child. Further, the plea will avoid re-traumatizing the child victim by bringing her into the court process. If Kelley unsuccessfully completes probation, the full 1-15 year prison term can be imposed by the court.

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After Multi-Agency Investigation, Office of the Attorney General Files Charges in Human Trafficking Case

SALT LAKE CITY April 22, 2016  – The Office of the Attorney General supported an investigation into Todd Jeremy Rettenberger (DOB 7/1/1978) led by the Bountiful City Police Department (BCPD). Today, the OAG, in cooperation with the Davis County District Attorney’s Office, filed multiple charges against Mr. Rettenberger. Chief Leo Lucey, Director of the Attorney General’s Investigation Division gave the following statement:

“Our investigators work with law enforcement agencies throughout the state on a daily basis on cases, task forces and as participants of the AG SECURE Strike Force to ensure safety throughout Utah. At the request of the Bountiful PD, we were invited to support the agency in their fine work directed by Chief Tom Ross. The alleged crimes in the case against Mr. Rettenberger are shocking and disturbing and have now been turned over to AG prosecutors in cooperation with the Davis County District Attorney’s Office,” said Chief Lucey. “We sincerely appreciate working with these very well respected partners and will continue to offer our support in saving victims and pursuing justice.”

The Probable Cause statement is attached. The OAG is not conducting interviews on this matter at this time.  

Rettenberger Filed Information

Rettenberger Signed Warrant

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Written Statement of Attorney General Sean D. Reyes Before the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights (March 1, 2016)

Sean approved headshot

Prior to Winter Storm Jonas shutting down much of the Washington, D.C. area in late January 2016, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes had been scheduled to testify on human trafficking before the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights.  Due to a calendar conflict when the hearing was rescheduled, Attorney General Reyes’ testimony was submitted to the commission for entering into the Congressional Record.

The following are excepts from the written testimony Attorney General Reyes submitted to the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights on March 1, 2016. A link to the full testimony will be added when available.

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that exists around the world.  By many accounts, it is the fastest growing and second most lucrative international crime, surpassing multi-billion dollar enterprises like counterfeiting and gun running/arms dealing and trailing only the sale of drugs in terms of sales volume.  Some believe it has already caught up with and perhaps surpassed drug dealing. In a number of ways, it is more devastating to the victims than any of the other aforementioned crimes.  Depending on the reporting agency or organization, anywhere from 20-40 million people are currently victims of trafficking worldwide.  A disproportionate number of victims are women (though male victims do exist) and a significant number of victims are children.  The toll on individual victims is incomprehensible while the dollar costs to society to deal with the short and long term, evident and latent effects of physical, mental, emotional and psychological servitude can be calculated in hundreds of millions of dollars in health care and other resources.

[…]

The majority of trafficking involves sexual slavery, with victims either being sold for sex, exploited as objects of pornography or often subjected to both horrors.  But sex exploitation is not the only manifestation of this great evil.  A significant number of victims are impressed into servitude as labor trafficking victims, working under life threatening conditions with no hope of escape.  Other victims fall prey to the black market human organ trade, to illegal adoptions or are bought and conscripted into the armies of warlords, pirates and organized crime around the world.  Yet others are purchased like toys for thousands or as little as hundreds of dollars by terrorists and in some cases utilized involuntarily as suicide bombers.  Some victims of sex trafficking have told me (and one testified with me before another U.S. Congressional Committee) that they are forced to have sex with dozens or even scores of “johns” daily, which can amount to thousands or tens of thousands of forced sexual relations over years.  Imagine
not only the physical abuse but the ravaging of one’s spirit and soul having to endure such torture.

The chances of escape or survival are both slim.  Even when opportunities present themselves for escape, too often the victims remain in the hell they are living for fear that the perpetrators will harm family members in their country of origin or family that is nearby.  Of all the crimes I fight on a daily basis, human trafficking, is a form of terrorism and torture that needs our attention. 

[…]

Fighting trafficking is not a Democrat issue or Republican issue, but a humanitarian issue[.]

[…]

The cold, indiscriminate hand of trafficking can reach out and torment rich and poor alike, men and women, young and old, developed nations or emerging ones.  It is no respecter of persons, rank or station.  But one silver lining that it presents is the chance to galvanize disparate interests around one cause.  It can unite us in an often divided and partisan nation and world. 

[…]

Human Trafficking is one of the great pandemics of our time—an evil, sui generis, that deserves our most serious attention.  Only by working together with influential bodies like the Lantos Commission on Human Rights will we be able to marshal properly the resources and resolve of our worldwide brothers and sisters to end this fight one day with victory.  The Great  Kamehameha I, uniter of the Hawaiian Islands and my ancestor, once summoned his male and female warriors in the pivotal battle of Iao Valley, severely outnumbered.  “Imua e na poki’I, a inu i ka wai ‘awa’awa” he exhorted.  Come forward my brothers and sisters to battle.  And then he encouraged, “Let us taste of the sweet waters of battle, because there is no turning back.” Never have those words been more appropriate to this test we face. Many in this fight feel alone and incapable of defeating this dark institution.  They are not alone.  We are not alone in this fight.

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