Nine people were arrested after a 10-month investigation into a sex-trafficking ring that used underage girls and catered to clients across the state -- including johns in Dutchess County and New York City, State Police in Oneida County said Wednesday.
The investigation began in February, when an underage girl walked into the Oneida County Child Advocacy Center looking for help, Trooper Jack Keller said. Staff at the center helped get the girl out of harm's way, and a State Police investigator assigned as a liaison to the child advocacy group began an investigation.
Police believe the girl was used by the trafficking ring for "a couple weeks" before she sought help, said Keller, who described the girl as "younger than 17" but declined to offer more details to protect the victim's identity. The group, Keller said, specifically targeted young girls who were estranged from their families or did not have stable living situations.
A 35-year-old man from Utica allegedly introduced the victim to a woman who knew Lynnette and Edward Tilden, siblings who ran the trafficking ring, State Police said.
State Police said the sex-trafficking group used Backpage.com, a classified ad website formerly part of Village Voice Media. The company's owners spun the website off under its own company in September in response to growing criticism -- and advertisers pulling their ads from the company's publications.
The website made headlines earlier in 2012, when three Seattle-area teenagers sued Village Voice Media in June. The teenagers, who claimed they were exploited, accused the company of providing a platform for prostitution.
The website has been called out by prominent critics, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote several profiles of young girls who said they were "sold" through ads on the site.
In the Oneida County case, Lynnette Tilden, 25, "was the one who posted the information on Backpage and set up the sex acts," Keller said.
The group, Keller said, "advertised right out in the open," but did not identify the victim as underage in its advertisements.
With the group's alleged ringleaders in custody, police said they are investigating whether other underage girls were exploited.
"We believe that there may be more victims out there who have been placed in the same environment," Keller said, adding that investigators hope to learn more "so we can get those victims the help they need."
Investigators believe the trafficking ring has been rendered inoperable with Wednesday's arrests, but Keller said the investigation is ongoing and may lead to more arrests.
Lynnette Tilden, 25; Edward Tilden, 30; and Alexandria Davall, 23, were each charged with felony sex trafficking. Michael J. Olsen, 28, of Verona, and David J. Jamrosz, 56, of New York Mills, were each charged with felony third-degree criminal sex acts. Michael J. Curcio, 22, of Whitesboro, and Rosheen A. Brooks, 32, of Utica, were each charged with felony third-degree rape. Two other men were charged with misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child.
The sex-trafficking charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison on conviction. Those convicted of sex trafficking, criminal sex acts and rape must register as sex offenders.
Attempts to reach attorneys for the suspects were unsuccessful Wednesday evening.
Anyone with information on the sex trafficking ring can call State Police in Oneida County at 315-366-6000.