Lea County, New Mexico, has a population of about 68,000, and is located in southeastern part of the state, near the Texas border closest to Midland and Odessa, TX. The county seat is Lovington, and it largest city is Hobbs (with about half of the county’s population). Prostitution activity has been well-documented throughout the county, and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are sex trafficking, child endangerment, and violence committed against people involved in these transactions. For example, in September, 2016, the Lea County Drug Task Force received several complaints in reference to possible prostitution taking place at a spa located on N. Marland in Hobbs. Agents with the Lea County Drug Task Force with the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations conducted an undercover operation involving solicitation for prostitution. The owner was arrested. In May, 2017, three men were charged with human trafficking and false imprisonment after a traffic stop in Lea County. The Lea County Sheriff’s Office released a statement about the arrests, which happened on U.S. Highway 62/180 near Mini Ranch Road. The vehicle was stopped for speeding. The driver of the vehicle did not have a valid driver’s license, and an open container of an alcoholic beverage was in plain sight. Two other men were also in the vehicle, along with a juvenile female. An interview with the suspects revealed that they were traveling from Lubbock, TX to Carlsbad, NM to engage in the criminal offense of prostitution, and that the girl was being taken against her will. The men were all charged with human trafficking and false imprisonment. In addition, a prostituted woman was murdered in 2010 in Lea County.
At least two reverse stings have been conducted within the county in order to address the consumer-level demand driving the commercial sex market, and related human trafficking offenses. In 2013, five men were arrested during an undercover operation by Hobbs Police. Court documents said that two agents posed as prostitutes and recorded the men trying to buy sex. In 2014, four men were arrested after answering a decoy Craigslist ad placed by the Hobbs Police Department. The men agreed to meet at a hotel, where they were arrested by a police officer upon arrival to the room. The men were taken to Hobbs City Jail, and the men all posted bail and later faced charges in the city court. In both operations, the ’ names and ages of the arrested men were publicly released.
- Lea County Drug Task Force
- Hobbs Police Department
- Hobbs City Jail
- Homeland Security Investigations
Web-based reverse sting, shaming:
- http://www.rdrnews.com/archive/?p=148705 (2016)
- https://www.newswest9.com/woman-arrested-following-prostitution-investigation-at-hobbs-massage-parlor (2016)
- https://www.kcbd.com/3-lubbock-men-charged-with-human-trafficking-in-lea-county/ (2017)