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Lehi is a city in Utah County, Utah, with a population of approximately 64,000. Prostitution and sex trafficking are well-documented problems in the city and throughout Utah County. For example, in November, 2019, a three-day human trafficking sting in Lehi resulted in the arrests of 26 people involved in human trafficking. Several of these arrests involved individuals that arrived at the location with the intent to sexually abuse children under the age of 18. One was arrested on charges of enticement of a minor over the internet, exploitation of a minor, and attempted aggravated kidnapping of a minor. At the time of this arrest, he was on pre-trial release for a previous arrest for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor out of Salt Lake County. Three individuals were arrested for “exploiting a prostitute” (acting in the role of a pimp), and numerous victims of human trafficking were identified and services were offered. Several drug arrests were made in addition to the charges regarding human trafficking. Police said that some men man tried to arrange encounters with 12 and 6-year-old girl, and one had graphic “child pornography” (child sexual abuse materials, or CSAM) on his cellphone. The sting was conducted by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Special Victims Unit, the Lehi City Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security-Investigations partnered with Operation Underground Railroad. Other participating agencies included the Unified Police Department, Salt Lake City Police Department, and the Provo Police Department.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. For example, a sting operation in July, 2018, resulted in the arrests of sex buyers on charges of soliciting prostitution. Detectives with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office partnered with the Lehi Police and a non-profit organization that fights human trafficking, known as Operation Underground Railroad. This partnership allowed police to place several ads on social media platforms advertising meet-ups with prostituted persons. Eighteen people responded to these ads and were arrested and faced charges including prostitution and “patronizing a prostitute.” Those charged with patronizing a prostitute were booked into the Utah County Jail. During the operation, the police identified a 16-year-old who was a victim of human trafficking, who was subsequently returned to his family. In March, 2022, an operation led by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office to combat human sex trafficking resulted in 21 arrests and three women being rescued. The arrests were on a variety of drug and trafficking-related charges, such as enticement, sexual solicitation and unlawful sexual conduct. A probable cause affidavit filed with the Utah County Jail stated that one man traveled from Evanston, Wyoming, to Lehi, where he had expected to meet a 15 year old girl for sex, and instead encountered the undercover operation. Another man responded to an advertisement set up by undercover investigators on “an online social media site that is known to be used to solicit minors for sexual acts,” and offered an officer (posing as a young girl) $100 for sex, a second booking affidavit states. Another suspect arrived with the understanding they’d be meeting with a 13-year-old child for sexual abuse
The loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred in the city. For example, in February 2019, Lehi Police and the Utah County Sheriff’s Office conducted a web-based reverse sting in which they arrested several men, including a former police lieutenant. Detectives, posing as prostituted women and trafficked children, began soliciting via posts and messages on an undisclosed social media app. The detectives were able to make contact with more than forty people. The detectives arranged to meet with one of the men in a local hotel. When the man arrived, he offered money in exchange for sex. In addition, he offered to “manage” the women, claiming he knew the tactics of police officers and could teach them how to avoid being caught. After exposing himself to the women, the man was arrested, and it was later discovered that he was not only a bishop for the local Latter-day Saint church, but was also a former police vice squad lieutenant in Saint George. He had been fired from his job with the police due to sexual misconduct while on active duty. The man was booked into the Utah County Jail on the charges of “exploiting a prostitute,” “patronizing a prostitute,” lewdness, and sexual battery. The Latter-Day Saints church removed him from his position as bishop.
- Utah County Sheriff’s Department
- Lehi Police Department
- Utah County Sheriff’s Department
- Operation Underground Railroad
- Department of Homeland Security-Investigations
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Disclosure of Identities:
- https://ourrescue.org/utah-county-human-trafficking-operations-supported (2018)
- https://kutv.com/man-arrested-in-utah-undercover-human-trafficking-investigation-is-an-lds-bishop (2019)
- https://www.heraldextra.com/former-lds-bishop-from-lehi-formally-charged-with-sexual-abuse-exploiting-a-prostitute/ (2019)
- https://www.ksl.com/former-utah-vice-squad-lieutenant-arrested-in-prostitution-sting (2019)
- https://www.fox13now.com/former-vice-squad-cop-arrested-in-valentines-day-prostitution-sting-in-lehi/ (2019)
- https://www.newsweek.com/lds-bishop-police-vice-squad-arrested-human-trafficking-sting (2019)
- https://www.ksl.com/21-arrested-in-utah-sex-trafficking-operation-police-say-not-even–tip-of-iceberg (2022)
Background on Local Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, Related CSAM:
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