ST. GEORGE — A Utah man has been sentenced to prison after entering a guilty plea Thursday to human trafficking-related charges.
Todd Jeremy Rettenberger was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison for second-degree felony human trafficking and zero to five years for third-degree felony exploitation of prostitution, according to a statement issued Saturday by the Office of the Utah Attorney General. The sentences will run concurrently.
“Importantly, this case demonstrates that human trafficking is real. It exists in Utah as it does across the nation and around the world,” Attorney General Sean Reyes said. “It takes many forms and can happen anywhere.”
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 and the Bountiful City Police Department investigated the allegations and found two females who were reportedly victimized by Rettenberger as part of this operation, according to the statement.
“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,” Reyes said.
The women alleged that Rettenberger used forceful and coercive tactics, including threats of violence, physical violence, exploitation of their drug dependencies and financial coercion.
As a result of Rettenberger’s guilty plea, Reyes said he was “thrilled” the alleged victims in the case would not have to endure a trial and “be forced to relive the atrocities perpetrated upon them.”
Reyes noted that it’s imperative to empower the survivors with resources to help them heal and reclaim their lives.
“Lastly,” Reyes added, “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.”
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children there are currently about 300,000 children in the United States who are victims of human trafficking.
Recent statistics released by the Department of Public Safety show evidence of child human-trafficking in Utah. In 2013, there were 179 juveniles arrested for prostitution. In 2014, 242 were jailed.
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.
Human trafficking facts
The following human trafficking facts can be found on the Utah Attorney General’s Office website:
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain. It is estimated that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry, second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.
Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are vulnerable.
Many misconceptions exist about human trafficking. For example, people think it only occurs abroad; that victims are only foreign-born or impoverished individuals; that traffickers are always strangers; and that victims always have visible chains.
Human trafficking exists in every country, including the United States. It exists nationwide – in cities, suburbs and rural towns – and probably in your own community.
Human trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality: young children, teenagers, women, men, runaways, United States citizens and foreign-born individuals. They may come from all socioeconomic groups.
You may have heard about sex trafficking, but forced labor is also a significant and prevalent type of human trafficking. Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, hotels and domestic service. Note that sex trafficking and forced labor are both forms of human trafficking, involving the exploitation of a person.
According to U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts is a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether he or she is forced or coerced.
Human trafficking is not the same as smuggling. “Trafficking” is exploitation-based and does not require movement across borders. “Smuggling” is movement-based and involves moving a person across a country’s border with that person’s consent, in violation of immigration laws.
Human trafficking is often a hidden crime. Victims may be afraid to come forward and get help; they may be forced or coerced through threats or violence; they may fear retribution from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not be in possession or have control of the identification documents.
“Anybody who would say that human trafficking and child exploitation doesn’t exist in our community is perpetuating a very irresponsible myth amongst the community,” Reyes said at a press conference held at the Utah State Capitol last July.
In April and May of 2016, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force took part in a nationwide sweep of child predators, called Operation Broken Heart III. Authorities arrested 1,368 suspects, including 71 from Utah. The suspects were charged with various offenses including possession and manufacturing of child pornography and soliciting children online for sex.
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