A sting featuring a fake sex-slave auction in Arizona has uncovered what authorities say is a little-known human-trafficking threat while bringing criticism of increasingly elaborate undercover operations, the Wall Street Journal reports. Four men have been charged with federal trafficking offenses for attempting to buy slaves at a fictitious auction set up by the FBI in a wealthy Phoenix suburb. Undercover agents reached out to the men after they had allegedly shown interest in buying sex slaves through a separate online Malaysian slave-trading organization the FBI was investigating, which turned out to be a scam.
The sting operation run by the FBI and Phoenix police comes amid a broader effort to tackle trafficking that has focused largely on children forced into the commercial sex trade. FBI agent George Steuer called it a landmark case. “We came to realize that there was a portion of the human-trafficking threat that we were underappreciating,” he said. “We realized that there was this group of individuals in the U.S. who were interested in owning a human slave both for sexual exploitation and domestic labor.” Defense lawyers say the investigation went too far by inducing the indicted men to attempt crimes they otherwise wouldn’t have pursued. “I thought I’d heard of everything until I got this case,” said George Klink, a Phoenix attorney for one of the men. “It’s an awful waste of resources.”