Miami police and prosecutors have arrested four men accused of running a human trafficking and prostitution ring that targeted abused and neglected girls in foster care. This is the latest in a string of tragic stories coming out of Florida’s troubled Department of Children & Families (DCF). The Miami-Herald reports:
Beginning in January of 2011, members of the ring would call girls on cell phones supplied by the men and arrange for them to have sex at a building in Homestead that the ring used as a kind of brothel, records say.
The ring lasted through February 2012 and preyed on girls living in a state foster group home run by Children’s Home Society, according to the affidavit. Additional details establish that this horrible exploitation of vulnerable children went on for 13 months without any DCF or group home workers noticing:
Using a teenage foster child as a recruiter, police say, the four men plied underage girls with cash, affection and gifts. Ultimately, the girls became prostitutes who earned the ring about $100 for every man with whom they had sex.
In addition to the four men accused of running the ring, a now-suspended DCF child welfare worker is being investigated by police over allegations he had sex with one of the girls, whom he had been assigned to protect:
Sources have told The Miami Herald that [Jean] LaCroix placed the girl at a group home for dependent children — and in turn returned to the home repeatedly to pick the girl up for sexual favors. The girl, sources say, also was working for members of the ring who were arrested Monday.
LaCroix’s name also came up following the death of Nubia Barahona, a Florida 10-year-old who was allegedly murdered by her adoptive parents, covered in acid and dumped by the side of a road in a plastic bag. DCF is under heavy criticism over allegations they mishandled the case. LaCroix was named in a lawsuit alleging the department ignored reports of the parents abusing and neglecting Nubia as well as her brother, Victor.
The investigation into the prostitution ring began in December 2011 when one of the foster girls, identified only asM.D., told a worker in the group home that she had been having consensual sex with a man. A subsequent police investigation revealed that she was a victim of the ring and recruited while under the state’s care.
Although further details are pending, that these men allegedly were able to run such a prostitution ring raises troubling questions about Florida’s DCF. Local advocates have been quick to express their concerns:
The ease with which ring members had access to the girls showed the “extreme lack of supervision of these girls, said Carole Schauffer, a children’s advocate who is working with DCF to recruit foster parents and improve the quality of foster parenting. “Nobody is looking at them as a parent would,” Schauffer said.