MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Twenty-nine people have been indicted in a sex trafficking ring in which Somali gangs in Minneapolis and St. Paul allegedly forced girls under age 14 into prostitution in Minnesota, Tennessee and Ohio, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.
The 24-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee, said one of the gangs' goals was recruiting females under age 18, including some under age 14, and forcing them into prostitution so the defendants could get money, marijuana or liquor.
The indictment details several instances in which young Somali or African American girls were taken from place to place and forced to engage in sex acts with multiple people. One girl was under 13 when she was first prostituted. Another girl was 18 when she was raped by multiple men in a hotel room, the indictment said.
John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the case is significant because the girls were repeatedly victimized over several years and transported to many places. The indictment lists incidents involving four victims.
"Human traffickers abuse innocent people, undermine our public safety, and often use their illicit proceeds to fund sophisticated criminal organizations," Morton said. "ICE is committed to bringing these criminals to justice and rescuing their victims from a life in the shadows."
Van Vincent, the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, wouldn't comment on the status of the girls, other than to say they were safe.
The indictment claims the ring involved three Minneapolis-based gangs - the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws - and that all three gangs are connected. The men and women charged were either gang members or associates of the gangs, the indictment said. They range in age from 19 to 38.
The indictment says the sex trafficking ring operated for 10 years, with the defendants recruiting young girls to engage in sex acts.
One girl was just 13 when, in 2005, she was taken from the Minneapolis area to an apartment in Nashville to engage in prostitution, it said. The girl was also taken to Columbus, Ohio, and other locations for prostitution.
In another case, a girl was under age 13 when she was first forced to engage in sex acts in November 2006. Two defendants had sex with her the next month at an apartment in St. Paul, and then other males arrived and were charged money to do the same, the indictment said. That scenario happened on many occasions.
The indictment refers to the girl as Jane Doe Two. The Associated Press does not identify victims of sex crimes.
"Jane Doe Two was informed ... that selling Jane Doe Two for sex would be called a 'Mission.' It was a rule that members of the (gangs) would not be charged for sex with Jane Doe Two as they were fellow gang members," the indictment said.
One defendant, Haji Osman Salad, nicknamed "Hollywood," later made Jane Doe Two "his girl," picking her up from school, engaging in sex acts with her, and then instructing her to engage in sex acts with other men, the indictment said.
Over the course of two-day period in April 2009, the girl was forced to engage in sex acts at least 10 times with nine different men, it said. Then, she was driven to Nashville. On the way there, Salad made a cell phone video of her engaging in sex acts with some of the occupants of the vehicle, the indictment said.
Seventeen people were arrested in Minnesota, nine were arrested in Tennessee and three were at large Monday evening, St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said.
Elders in St. Paul's Somali community began approaching law enforcement officers in 2007 and 2008 with concerns that young girls were being trafficked, Smith said.
Those eventually charged traveled easily between Nashville and St. Paul, and some may have been related, said Jerry Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. Both cities, as well as Columbus, have large Somali refugee populations.
Along with sex trafficking, the indictment charges some of the defendants with conspiring to obstruct the investigation by lying to a federal grand jury. It also alleges some stole a motor vehicle, committed burglaries, and engaged in credit card fraud - causing one credit card company to lose $231,000 over a one-year period.
Omar Jamal, an advocate for Somalis in Minnesota, said the allegations shocked the Somali community, whose members pointed out Islam forbids such activity.
"Collectively, they might have been in denial that such grave sex minor trade could ever be going on in the community," he said. "It's a kind of crime that a community can never think of their kids as being capable of doing this. ... People are saying, 'How could this be? How could such a thing happen?'"