ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) – A Las Vegas man faces 13 felony charges after being accused of having sex with a child prostitute while visiting St. George last year.
Police said Darell Hopper, 31, admitted to having sex every day for nearly three weeks with a 17-year-old Las Vegas runaway after traveling with her to St. George.
ABC4’s Katie Karalis met with the chief of investigations for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, who said sex trafficking in Southern Utah is a major concern.
“[Southern Utah] is every bit as big of a concern,” Chief Leo Lucey said. “With Las Vegas in such near proximity to St. George and I-15 running right through the middle of the city, it will be a constant and ongoing battle for law enforcement and the community.”
Lucey said that most people are in denial that sex trafficking is a real threat in Southern Utah, but with its proximity to major cities and moderate climate, the area is ideal for sex traffickers’ primary targets: runaways and the homeless.
“They’ll watch parks, malls, high schools, and junior highs,” Lucey said. “If they think they can make money in St. George at any given time, they’ll send those young women up here, and they use the narcotics to keep a rope around the women to control them.”
The police chief, who oversees the Internet Crimes Against Children task force with Attorney General Sean Reyes’ Office, said narcotics are funneled heavily along I-15 from south of the nation’s border, so traffickers can quickly enslave victims by getting them addicted to drugs.
“Once they get them in, they pretty much own them,” Lucey added.
St. George police officer Tiffany Atkin said detectives are actively investigating human trafficking, and while SGPD can’t discuss how and when sting operations take place, they’re conducted at least several times a year.
“We want to be able to locate them, rescue them, and get them the help they need,” said Atkin.
Lucey said law enforcement see a rotation every seven to eight months with young women trafficked from Las Vegas to St. George to Salt Lake City, up to Washington State then to California and back again.