SAN DIEGO–For the second time this month, law enforcement in San Diego announced the results of a successful investigation by the Human Trafficking Task Force that has dismantled a significant sex trafficking operation.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis Monday announced the results of Operation Hotel Tango, a year-long human trafficking investigation that uncovered at least seven victims who were pimped and trafficked for years by three defendants in San Marcos. Defendant Tyrone Evans, 40 of San Marcos has been charged with 22 felony counts including human trafficking and pimping and pandering; defendants Lila Lefors, 36 of Carlsbad, and Natasha McElrath, 37 of San Marcos, have each been charged with six felony counts including human trafficking and pimping and pandering. Evans faces up to 29 years, four months in prison and Lefors and McElrath each face up to 24 years, eight months in prison.
All three defendants were arrested June, 17 and arraigned Monday in San Diego Superior Court.
“This month’s successful take down of two sex trafficking operations is further evidence of law enforcement’s commitment and cooperation in San Diego County to stop the scourge of human trafficking,” DA Dumanis said. “Our partners at the Human Trafficking Task Force continue to rescue victims of sex trafficking on a regular basis and the DA’s Office is holding the individuals who exploit these young women and girls responsible for their crimes.”
Operation Hotel Tango was a Human Trafficking Task Force Operation led by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department in cooperation with The California Department of Justice, the District Attorney’s Office, the Escondido and San Diego Police Departments and the California Highway Patrol. The case is a result of a long-term investigation into Tyrone Evans and his pimping activities. The investigation spanned over a year and involved a multitude of search warrants looking at financial records and communications on Gmail, iCloud, Uber, Backpage.com, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. The operation used the latest techniques in tracking the finances behind the human trafficking ring.
“Where there is human trafficking, there are no victims’ rights,” Sheriff Bill Gore said. “There is only degradation and shame. And, it’s not limited to particular regions or individuals with a lengthy criminal past. We’re learning this is the ‘neighbor-next-door’ type of crime; a criminal malignancy that permeates all levels of our society.”
The investigation tracked the methods Evans used to control his victims and found he assists and works with other individuals in their pimping activities. For example, several people sought out Evans seeking his advice on how to best conduct their own operations.
Additionally, the investigation revealed that Evans, with the help of Lefors and McElrath, used force as well as coercion and duress to force victims to engage in sex acts for money. Victims were forced to travel around the state, as well as to different states to conduct their sex trade. They were dependent on Evans for money and said Evans would leave them stranded and without enough money to eat.
“Human traffickers exploit vulnerable children and adults, subjecting their victims to manipulation, violence, and unspeakable cruelty while forcing them into labor and prostitution,” said Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “I thank our law enforcement partners in the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force and our California Department of Justice Special Agents for working diligently and collaboratively to protect victims of trafficking and hold accountable those who profit from the insidious crime of human trafficking.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty at the arraignment and are being held on bail amounts that range from $200,000 to $800,000. They will be in court next for a status conference June 27.
Later this month, the DA’s Office will announce a unique and provocative human trafficking awareness campaign designed to change public attitudes and policy toward human trafficking.