Cook County authorities said they have charged nine individuals, who they say collectively and individually ran an elaborate forced-sex ring featuring children as young as 12 years old.
"Gang members are not just selling drugs anymore," said State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. "They’re selling children."
Code-named "Operation Little Girl Lost," the investigation targeted sex ads on internet sites, where pimps provided young girls at local motels. The operation featured what investigators said was a first-ever state-based wiretap investigation targeting crimes of human trafficking.
"What we've seen, the beatings, the manipulation, the violence involved, we're talking 13- and 14-year-old girls," said Sheriff’s Police Commander Mike Anton. "In a few instances, we actually have recorded instances of girls being beaten and abused, which was difficult to listen to."
Investigators said those accused worked in concert with each other, or at times they competed. An affidavit filed with the charges said at times, they would freely trade girls between themselves.
"In one case, a 13-year-old girl was sold from one pimp to another for $100," said Alvarez.
Calling the suspects "vicious predators," assistant State’s Attorney Lou Longhitano said every effort had been made to steer the young victims into social service agencies who can help them leave their lives on the streets.
"There are some real success stories," Longhitano said. "Some of them are as simple as making it to 8th grade graduation, because that’s how early they’re sucking these girls in."
Investigators say all of their suspects are gang members, former gang members or associates.
Chicago’s new police superintendant suggested the case was disturbing to even hardened investigators.
"It pulls at your heartstrings, when young girls are exploited in such a fashion," said Garry McCarthy.