Officials have broken up a multimillion-dollar drug and prostitution ring in Manhattan ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl. Cops nabbed 18 operators of the ring, which reportedly offered "party packs" — deliveries of both prostitutes and drugs — to high-paying clients. The ringleaders targeted clients with text messages, Web ads, and even cable TV spots, according to the New York Post. The NYPD and New York attorney general's Organized Crime Task Force had been investigating the group for 11 months, and authorities swooped in when they saw an uptick in activity the past two weeks to capitalize on the Super Bowl festivities.
On Thursday morning, more than a dozen men and women were led out of a police precinct on the Lower East Side, with one woman wearing Hello Kitty pajama pants.
The organization, which made millions of dollars, is also accused of laundering money and using clothing, wig, limousine, and beauty supply shops as fronts. One of the buildings that the ring used is located near Super Bowl Boulevard in Midtown Manhattan. The pimps are accused of packing clients' rooms with prostitutes and charging up to $10,000 for one night.
On Wednesday, about 20 women received prostitution charges in Midtown — more than the court usually sees in a month. There have now been more than 300 prostitution-related arrests in January, which is a 30 percent increase from last year, according to the NYPD.
The big game has long been associated with Texas Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott's statement in 2011 that the Super Bowl is "the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States." But some call that notion a complete hoax: In fact, there seems to be no measurable spike in out-of-towners flocking to Super Bowls to participate in prostitution.
Nonetheless, New Jersey and New York have beefed up their efforts to recognize and combat potential human trafficking ahead of the Super Bowl. As Bustle reported:
And because there’s little concrete evidence that the Super Bowl increases sex trafficking, some believe the problem little more than an urban legend. Last year, when the Super Bowl was held in Indianapolis, the Phoenix New Times reported: “Yes, one of America’s great urban legends is again being trotted out just in time for kick-off: the notion that legions of out-of-town prostitutes descend on whichever city hosts America’s big game.”
Whether myth or fact, New Jersey authorities are making sure they’re prepared for the possibility of a spike in sex traffic. New Jersey’s Attorney General, John J. Hoffman says that the state has “enlisted, basically, every service provider that people coming to the Super Bowl are going to run into… There are a lot of eyes that are going to be on their activities and going to be on spotting potential victims of this crime.”
Anti-trafficking advocates still say that Super Bowl host cities need to be aware of the problem, which also involves young children. Prostitution ads on New York websites jumped by 50 percent over the weekend. But the POLARIS Project, an organization that seeks to help trafficking victims, hopes to counter those ads by placing their billboards in highly traveled areas, like Times Square.
“These are places we know that victims end up. They will see billboards, they will know someone is out there to help them,” says the POLARIS Project's Keeli Sorensen.