Task force targets sex trafficking

NEW HAVEN — The Naugatuck Police Department is one of 14 agencies from across the state that have agreed to take part in a task force that will target the sex trafficking of minors, federal authorities announced last week.

Naugatuck has been selected to take part in a partnership with the FBI and the Department of Children and Families, among other federal agencies.

Naugatuck Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger said U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly requested that the department join this task force.

“We have taken part in several federal agencies over the years and have developed a good working relationship with agencies in the federal government. That may have put us on their list,” Bernegger said.

In addition to training and sharing investigative leads, members of the task force will also be deputized as federal officers while working on cases. The task force will also work to support victims of trafficking.

“Over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that human trafficking, and particularly the sex trafficking of minors — the cruel victimization of defenseless young women and men — is a form of modern day slavery,” Daly said in announcing the task force. “Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, this criminal activity grows apace with the proliferation of internet marketplaces where sex with children can be bought and sold.”

The Human Trafficking Task Force includes Homeland Security agents, state troopers and police from cities, including Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven and Stamford.

Bernegger said a Naugatuck detective will be assigned part time to the task force once it begins its work.

“We don’t know how it will evolve and what the detective’s duties will be at this time,” Bernegger said.

In announcing the new initiative, authorities touted a successful prosecution of Edward “Fire” Thomas, 41, who was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for trafficking 16 and 17 year-old girls in Milford and Windsor Locks.

A grand jury also indicted a New York man last week after authorities claim he sold minors for sex for more than four months in Connecticut.

The task force “should serve as a warning to all who participate in the depravity and exploitation of human beings for profit, that such behavior will be vigorously investigated,” FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Patricia Ferrick said in announcement of the group.

Bernegger said the department is proud to be part of the task force.

“Sex trafficking does exist in this country and it is something, as a society, we should not tolerate and we should aggressively investigate,” Bernegger said. “We have no information showing there is a problem in Naugatuck, but we are proud to be called upon to be a part of an important organization.”

Authorities ask anyone who believes they’ve come into contact with potential victims of trafficking to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at (888) 373-7888. Trafficking victims can also text “BEFREE” for immediate response and help from the center.

Luke Marshall contributed to this article.