SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Members of three Oceanside gangs normally at odds with each other collaborated in a racketeering conspiracy which included prostitution of minors and adults, drug trafficking and other offenses, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.
Thirty-eight people were charged following an 18-month multi-agency gang investigation dubbed "Operation Vice Grip," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
The defendants are members, associates and facilitators of the "Oceanside Crip Enterprise," composed of three Crip gang sets - the Insane Crip Gang, Deep Valley Crips and Crook, Mob Gangsters, according to the indictment.
All three Crip sets - each with their own area of influence in Oceanside - have interacted over the last several years to the point that traditional gang distinctions have broken down, Duffy said.
The indictment alleges that since 2005, the defendants engaged in multiple racketeering acts in furtherance of the enterprise, including the sex trafficking of minors and adults, attempted murder, kidnapping, extortion and the distribution of controlled substances.
"The indictment unsealed today targets a growing problem in San Diego County and across the country," Duffy said. "Street gangs like the Crips (are) expanding traditional gang activities" - like drug trafficking and violent crime - "to include prostitution."
"I cannot state this more emphatically: I regard the kind of prostitution involved in this case, including the trafficking of children via the Internet, social networking sites and local businesses, as a form of modern-day slavery to which every available law enforcement resource will be applied," she said.
Duffy said prostitutes caught up in the operation were often "traded like property" and beaten by their pimps if they did not do as they were told.
Michael Carney, Acting Special Agent in Charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said 30 underage girls were rescued during the investigation, which puts the spotlight on organized criminal activities by gangs to make money in San Diego County.
"The sex trafficking of women and children is a particularly heinous crime and cannot be tolerated in our communities," Carney said. "Our goal is to not only prevent the spreading of this modern-day form of slavery, but to wipe it out in every form where it exists."
Among those charged with facilitating the enterprise's prostitution activities are a father and son and a company which owns and operates the Oceanside Travelodge, Duffy said.
The indictment alleges that Hitesh Patel, 27, and his 60-year-old father, Vinod Patel, acting on behalf of Gayatri Investments, LLC, facilitated and allowed members and associates of the enterprise to rent rooms at the Oceanside Travelodge, using other people's identification, knowing of the illegal activity that would occur, and, occasionally, understanding that payment would be made following "dates" or "tricks.
The Patels arranged to have the participants housed in specific areas and rooms within the hotel so that they were segregated from legitimate customers, according to the indictment.
The Patels charged - and the defendants paid higher room rates - in exchange for permitting the prostitution activities to be conducted at the Travelodge, the government alleges.
The Patels are also accused of warning members and associates of the enterprise about law enforcement activity or inquiries.
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