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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes called a press conference Thursday to let Utahns know his office is serious about investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and crimes against children.
He wouldn't, however, specify what those cases are.
In the press conference at the state Capitol, investigators said that among arrests made by 25 police agencies since Jan. 1, including some just this week, there were 16 arrests that illustrate the issues that law enforcement are combatting in the state.
But no information about the 16 men was provided.
A slideshow presented at the announcement included a large display of 16 mug shots under the headline "Suspects." A list of felony crimes being investigated were later listed: rape of a child, sexual exploitation of a minor, enticing a minor over the internet, dealing in harmful material to a child, failure to register as a sex offender, criminal conspiracy and possession of a controlled substance.
Some of the 16 are accused of manufacturing child pornography and some sexually abused children, the attorney general's office said.
But Reyes and others participating in the press conference would not identify the individuals or provide specific details about the allegations and/or criminal charges they face.
Twenty-five agencies participated in the arrests and three children were rescued, according to the presentation. When asked, no one would say anything about the children or the circumstances they were rescued from.
As Leo Lucey, chief of investigations at the attorney general's office, discussed state risk factors of human trafficking and crimes against children, Reyes also used the press conference as an opportunity to take a shot from the sidelines at unspecified news media.
"Utah is a pretty trusting environment, too, and often it is able to flourish hiding in plain sight here. People don't believe it can happen here, fueled sometimes by media stories and reports that these kinds of things don't exist and they're fabricated by law enforcement," Reyes interjected from the spot where he was leaning against the wall.
Questioned by reporters about what those media reports are and whether he would provide specific details, Reyes replied, "No, not right now."
He then added, "You can look and do your own homework. I have read articles and reports where people have speculated that this is not actually happening, and I think that it would be irresponsible to take that route, to take that view, because I, we, have put so much time, so much effort, so many resources, and we know these cases do exist."
When the press conference ended, Reyes left without speaking further to reporters.
After the event, Lucey and Jessica Farnsworth, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, again declined to provide details about any of the 16 arrests they were heralding.
Jail bookings are a matter of public record and hundreds of people are arrested each day in Utah. If anyone wants to know who the 16 individuals are, Lucey and Farnsworth said, they could check through the jail bookings in Utah and Salt Lake counties dating back to Jan. 1 and look for the listed offenses.
One of the mugshots shown was that of William Piol Makuei, 52, who KSL reported on last month. Makuei is charged with two counts of rape of a child, a first-degree felony, after police identified him through DNA collected from the newborn child of a 14-year-old girl.
Prosecutor Dan Strong also pointed to a raid of massage parlors in southern Utah, which led to a charge of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse, among other allegations, against the owner of the businesses, Brett Allan Labrum, 48.
In the press conference, Reyes and Lucey praised Utah's model for investigating trafficking, saying it has been pointed to as a example that could be implemented in other states by national experts and advocates, including Laura Lederer, former senior adviser with the U.S. State Department on trafficking in persons.
Reyes also pointed to proposed legislation that would make unregulated custody transfers of adopted children illegal in the state. Reyes explained that the process is known as "re-homing," where adoptive parents don't sell the children but offer them to someone else's care for a number of reasons.
Those children can land in the care of "traffickers, pimps, predators and abusers," he said.
"There have been thousands of documented cases nationwide, and Utah has been involved in some cases of 're-homing,' and as you can imagine, the people who are picking up the kids, the adoptive kids, on the other side, may not all have the best of intentions," Reyes said.
Sponsored by Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, HB199 is currently being considered in the House floor.
Here are just a few of the many sex trafficking stories that KSL has covered in the past:
I've been at KSL for nearly 4 years. These are the trafficking stories we've covered since then. Not 1 script says this doesn't happen in UT— Keira Farrimond (@NewsKeira) February 24, 2017