Los Angeles County prosecutors say a new human trafficking unit has helped them get tougher on pimps.
During a news conference outside her office Tuesday, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey issued a message for gang members, who she said are increasingly forcing women and children into sex work.
"We will loosen your grip on these girls," Lacey said. "Your days of making money from the sexual exploitation of runaways and homeless youth are numbered."
The unit created in July has already resulted in more charges, more convictions and longer sentences for pimps, Lacey said.
Among the cases the new unit has handled are several that resulted in lengthy prison sentences. The district attorney's office said the unit's work led to the convictions last year of Lebrette Winn, 23, who was sentenced to 47 years to life for human trafficking and rape; James Junior Conley, 37, who forced a 15-year-old into prostitution and was sentenced to 36 years; and Rufus McNeely, 37, who was sentenced to 23 years to life for luring a 16-year-old Oakland girl from her home and forcing her into prostitution in L.A., San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
Prosecutors have also charged a trio of gang members who Lacey said ran a multimillion-dollar prostitution ring known as the "Compton Division." The three men -- Daniel Gunther, David Sheffey and Robert Walker – brutalized girls, some as young as 12, Lacey said, and gave them tattoos as a sign of ownership.
A picture displayed at the news conference showed that one of the victims had big block letters reading "COMPTON DIVISION" stretching from her upper right thigh down to her ankle.
Gunther and Sheffey, both 35, were sentenced to prison last year, according to the district attorney's office. Walker, 32, who is accused of trafficking a minor, dissuading a witness and molesting a 12-year-old, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday and faces 42 years to life in prison, the office said.
In 2013, the district attorney's office filed 28 human trafficking charges against pimps. In 2014, county prosecutors filed 75 charges.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jane Creighton, the new unit's coordinator, said most pimps fall into two categories: guerrilla pimps, who burn and choke women or use other violence and fear as a means of control, and Romeo pimps, who she described as "very good looking, smooth as butter," men who use clothes and other gifts as tools of manipulation.
With the latter group, she said, it can be hard to get victims to cooperate and testify against the pimps.
"They believe they're in love with these people," she said. "You have to remember that they're victims -- they're broken."