NEW YORK - The so-called "johns" who fuel the sex-for-pay trade were not left out of a slew of crackdowns on the industry scheduled to coincide with the Super Bowl as hundreds were rounded up in a multistate sting operation, authorities said Thursday.
In all, 359 men soliciting sex were rounded up, along with 14 others who were arrested on sex trafficking charges, according to Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Thomas J. Dart. The sting lasted from Jan. 23 through Sunday, when the Super Bowl played in East Rutherford, N.J.
The arrests included what the Los Angeles Police Department reported was a pimp who drove from Arizona to collect what he thought was a new recruit. Authorities said Los Angeles undercover officers discovered that he brought along an 18-year-old woman he had forced into prostitution, along with her 5-year-old son, both of whom were rescued.
Other busts included a pimp in St. Paul, Minn., who had been holding two 18-year-old women against their will and a Harris County, Texas, Constable Precinct 4 deputy who was wearing his uniform trousers when he was arrested as he tried to solicit sex, said Benjamin Breit, a spokesman for Dart. He said Harris County law enforcement arrested 48 johns.
Dayton, Ohio, police arrested five sex traffickers, the most of any agency.
Breit said the sting was among several carried out since 2011, when eight small police forces began targeting johns "to stifle demand and show this is not a victimless crime." He said many more law enforcement agencies have joined the effort as "agencies across the country saw what we were doing and that we were succeeding in changing the conversation just in terms of shining a light on the demand for sex."
Breit said the timing of the sting operation was not meant to put the law enforcement agencies in the middle of the debate over whether sporting events are a haven for sex trafficking or whether the claims of that are overblown.
"We don't care, but we do think it's a good thing when people are paying attention to the plight of these women," he said.
Breit said the states where authorities participated in the crackdown on johns included Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.
Earlier this week, the FBI announced it had rescued 16 juveniles ranging in age from 13 to 17 forced into working as prostitutes for the Super Bowl. The FBI said more than 50 women forced to work as prostitutes were also rescued while more than 45 pimps were arrested as well.
The FBI was among partners in a Super Bowl sex trafficking task force set up by the New Jersey Attorney General's office after it was announced that the game would be held in New Jersey. The FBI said its operation consisted of more than 50 law enforcement agencies.
Last week, New York law enforcement authorities announced 18 arrests in the breakup of a prostitution ring that they said advertised on public access cable TV, took credit cards and used text messages to market "party packs" of cocaine and sex to clients. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the gang had been under surveillance for 11 months, but authorities made arrests before the Super Bowl to disrupt any parties that might have been in the works for the weekend of the game.