SAN DIEGO - Two dozen alleged North Park gang members and their associates were charged in an indictment unsealed Wednesday as members of a racketeering conspiracy linked to the trafficking of women and girls as young as 15, a murder nearly 20 years ago and robbery and drug offenses.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said a combination of two gangs, dubbed "BMS" by law enforcement, earned money by trafficking 60 girls and women from ages 15 to 25 for prostitution in 46 cities in 23 states, including Alaska and Hawaii.
"Over the last several years, the defendants in this enterprise had really expanded enterprise activities, like a profit-driven, fast-expanding corporation," Duffy said. "The kind of sex trafficking described in the indictment is nothing less than modern-day slavery. Unfortunately, this is something we're beginning to see more and more with gangs, moving away from some of the traditional gang behavior into this type of business."
Early Wednesday, police and FBI agents arrested 14 of the suspects in San Diego, two in Arizona and one in New Jersey. Four of the defendants were already in custody on other charges, according to Duffy.
Named in the indictment are San Diego residents Aaron Dwayne Pittman, 31; Alvin Bernard Mitchell, 36; Robert Banks III, 33; Hakeem Tayari Dunn, 33; Marcus Anthony Stevenson, 29; Labarron Carnell Coker, 32; Malik Hassan Kelly, 32; Harold Randolph Martin, 32; Anthony Dwayne Edmond, 28; Tony Brown, 32; Jakari Deandrez Blake, 23; Jonathan Devon Price, 23; Bradley West Reynolds, 24; Akili Lynn Cobb, 26; Christopher Michael Wall, 28; Everett Burdette Williams, 25; Marcus John Anthony Griffin, 26; Edward Reynolds, 27; Nicole Lee Rice, 25; Yasenia Armentaro, 22; and Nadine Davis, 23.
Firearms, drugs, luxury cars, televisions, cash, "pimp paraphernalia" and Air Jordan shoes were also seized in connection with the arrests, authorities said.
Ronald Ruason Hollingsworth, Dante Levell Grant and Ronald Ledon Jackson remain at large.
Duffy alleged the defendants were involved in various aspects of the enterprise; some transported the prostitutes, used violence to maintain their loyalty, handled money or booked hotel rooms.
Assistant San Diego police Chief Cesar Solis said the investigation that led to the charges began following a routine vice arrest.
The defendants allegedly recruited prostitutes from El Cajon Boulevard and other areas, or lured them in through social media websites. They were violently forced into the business or were coerced with promises of a glamorous lifestyle, Duffy said.
The girls and women were often tattooed with gang monikers, pimps' names or bar codes, authorities said.
The indictment also outlined overt acts, including the 1995 killing of a delivery driver, in which one of the defendants was suspected; drug dealing; and robbery.
Duffy said racketeering conspiracy charges-- a statute typically used in prosecuting organized crime syndicates, would allow for the most severe penalties.
She said 49 women and 11 teenage girls were provided with various types of assistance.
The local defendants are scheduled to make their first court appearance Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major.