U.S. and Colombian authorities teamed up in a sting operation of epic proportions in order to take down a large sex-trafficking ring in the heart of Colombia.
The sting featured a fake “bachelor party” in which agents and an impromptu group of volunteers acted as if they were tourists trying to purchase young girls for the night.
The group of volunteers was put together by Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization specializing in stopping the sexual exploitation of children. Ballard is a former CIA agent and Homeland Security Investigator who focused on child sex-trafficking cases.
“I spent 12 years as a special agent, undercover operative for the United States government, doing this, and learned how to do it," Ballard said. "The problem was that the vast majority of the kids that we would identify, we couldn’t save. They weren’t U.S. cases."
The “rag-tag group of volunteers“ consisted of filmmakers, a former Navy Seal, CrossFit instructors and even actress Laurie Holden, who starred in “The Walking Dead.” The volunteers played party guests as they waited for the Colombian sex-traffickers to arrive.
Although prostitution is legal in Colombia, age restrictions still apply and in order to prosecute a sex-trafficker in court there must be video evidence of money exchanging hands. The “bachelor party” house was wired with various hidden cameras as authorities hide close by.
In all, 11 Colombians were arrested in the operation, including one American man who had allegedly traveled to Medellin to film himself having sex with underage girls. Marcus Bronschidle was caught on camera giving money to Ballard with the intention of spending the night with a child.
“It’s going to be about $200 to $300 for the evening, for a child,” Ballard allegedly told Bronschidle in the captured video footage.
The sting operation proved to be a success, as more than 55 sex-trafficking victims were rescued by Colombian officials. One of the victims was an 11-year-old girl who tearfully recounted being sold for $1,000 because she was a virgin, reported the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.
The Colombian defendants now face anywhere from five to 20 years behind bars for their actions. All victims in the case are now being taken care of by Colombia’s child protection agency.