COLUMBIA, Mo. — After Vice President Pence used his appearance in Springfield on Monday to tout Josh Hawley’s role in the raids of several Greene County massage parlors that were allegedly part of a widespread human trafficking ring, Springfield News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin decided to look into what — if anything — has really come from the raids.
Following the Vice President’s comments, Pokin asked Hawley’s office for an update. It turns out that “little or nothing had happened in the investigation.” Pokin writes that more than a year after Hawley himself forcefully promised to “hunt down” and “prosecute” those suspected of engaging in human trafficking, “no one has been charged with a felony. Still.” Meanwhile, Pokin clarifies that claims that Josh Hawley took on “the biggest ring of human traffickers in the state’s history” are simply “false.”
…On Monday night, Pence praised Hawley on many fronts.
But the one that was news to me was that Hawley, according to the vice president, had taken on the “biggest ring of human traffickers in the state’s history.”
I wondered: When did we, the public, find out this was the “biggest ring of human traffickers in the state’s history”?
On the contrary, as far as I knew, little or nothing had happened in the investigation in Missouri.
…The News-Leader gave the story front-page coverage when it broke in July 2017: “Authorities raid massage parlors.”
Missouri Attorney General Hawley was in town, and we ran a photo of him. We quoted him and his office extensively. He told those suspected of human trafficking: “We will find you out, we will hunt you down and we will prosecute you.”
Three months later, he announced he was challenging U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, in November.
Colleague Harrison Keegan followed up on the human-trafficking story in February…
…Keegan reported: “Seven months after law enforcement officers raided more than a dozen Springfield massage parlors, looking for evidence of sex trafficking, no one has been charged locally with any felony crime.”
In that story, Curtis Garner, a Springfield attorney representing one of the massage parlors, said the state had “substantially” exaggerated what was happening at these businesses.
…On Tuesday, I called Hawley’s office for an update, as well as Patterson. They both sent me the same email response, drafted by the attorney general’s office.
“Following the raid on numerous businesses in southwest Missouri, the Attorney General’s Office won a court injunction prohibiting 15 businesses and individuals from engaging in trafficking or prostitution.
…First, I should note, the injunction might as well have also prohibited the businesses from murder, manufacturing meth and parking in handicap spaces.
Like prostitution and human trafficking, they already are illegal.
What this means, to me, is that in Missouri, no one has been charged with a felony. Still.
…for Pence to blow into town and announce that this investigation involves the “biggest ring of human traffickers in the state’s history” is as much unfounded as the claim that Springfield was on the “brink of collapse.”
In addition, the statement itself — “biggest ring of human traffickers in the state’s history” — happens to be false.
How do I know this?
You might recall that Missouri was a slave state.