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Brendan Johnson, U.S. Attorney for South Dakota

Brendan Johnson, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota, is pictured in his office on Aug. 12, 2013, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Since 2009, prosecutions through the office of Brendan Johnson, U.S. attorney for South Dakota, have put three traffickers in prison for life — the most of any federal district.

Johnson said the business and population growth in the Bakken oilfields doesn’t appear to have had much direct effect on trafficking in South Dakota, where the problem exists but has been more home-grown. But prosecutors have heard several victims from South Dakota say they were brought to North Dakota.

Johnson’s office has seen several dozens of victims, but most “are South Dakota kids, and they’re very vulnerable kids,” he said. “That’s how these traffickers — they move into the community, they’re part of the community — and that’s how they identify” and target people.

Many of the victims come from the American Indian reservations in the state, including the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota. In one case there, a woman would offer “johns” a trade: sex with her niece in exchange for gas and beer money.

Johnson’s first sex trafficking case — also South Dakota’s first — came in 2009, six months after he became the state’s U.S. attorney. Six months later, another case popped up, and investigators and prosecutors saw evidence of organized trafficking in their interviews with women caught up in the sex trade.

“There really was a network of these traffickers in Sioux Falls. These girls went from multiple traffickers, and these traffickers sometimes worked together,” Johnson said.

Of the 15 people sentenced to life for sex trafficking minors since 2003, South Dakota’s three represent the most of any federal district, said Michael Osborn, chief of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children unit.

“People are sometimes surprised” by that, Osborn said in a recent interview with Forum News Service.

The three South Dakota cases resulting in life sentences:

Mohammed Alaboudi was sentenced last year to four separate life terms for running a makeshift homeless shelter where he would exploit homeless, drug-addicted girls and young women by offering them shelter and food in exchange for them engaging in prostitution. According to court testimony, he would rape and otherwise assault them to keep them submissive.

Brandon Thompson was sentenced in 2011 to life in prison for operating a sex trafficking ring out of his Tea, S.D., residence, where he exploited 10 minors and three adult women over the course of three years. His sentence included 120 months on top of his life sentence for soliciting the murder of two of the minor victims to prevent them from testifying against him.

Carl Campbell was convicted by a jury in 2013 of operating a sex trafficking ring around Sioux Falls from 2011 to 2012. He was sentenced to three life terms, and two 20-year sentences for related counts, all running concurrently.

Another federal South Dakota case set a national precedent for prosecuting johns. After Daron Jungers and Ronald Bonestroo challenged their convictions after they were caught in a 2011 john sting, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 that the federal trafficking law does also apply to purchasers of the sex.

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