Police: Selling people now more profitable than selling drugs

Amanda Sepulveda and Brandon Swanier (Photo source: Biloxi Police Dept.)
Amanda Sepulveda and Brandon Swanier (Photo source: Biloxi Police Dept.)

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - As two people sit in the Harrison County Jail on human trafficking charges, state lawmakers are trying to pass stiffer penalties for those convicted of buying and selling sex. Biloxi police said Amanda Sepulveda, 21, is being held under a $250,00 bond. Brandon Swanier, 24, was denied bond because he was already out on bond for another felony.

Biloxi police arrested Swanier and Sepulveda for human trafficking after months of investigating online ads for escort and prostitution services.

"We found [the] victim that had been forced into commercial sexual activity," said Aldon Helmert with the Biloxi Police Department. "They were forced into by these two suspects."

House Bill 673, which is currently in conference committee, could affect future cases. Right now, anyone convicted of human trafficking can keep the profits and properties gained from the illegal activity. So officers said more criminals are switching from selling drugs to selling people.

"Our state laws currently allow the government to seize proceeds of illegal drug trade. So currently, it is more beneficial for a person to be involved in pimping or the commercial sexual activity of trafficking than it would be for them to sell drugs," said Helmert. "With that new law, it absolutely allows the government to come in and seize the proceeds of that criminal activity."

Advocates For Freedom, which promotes awareness in Mississippi for human trafficking, supports the legislation. Susie Harvill is the CEO for Advocates For Freedom.

"You can't send police out without empowering them with the right laws to do something, and so this is where it's going to really help the victims that are being trafficked," said Harvill.

Harvill said the best defense against human trafficking is a concerned community. Her organization has helped more than 90 human trafficking victims in Mississippi in the last two years.

"Our kids are our most important gift. And wherever your children are, whether it's a party, a skating rink, it could be the mall or any sports game, that's where the pimps are," said Harvill. "They are as smart as we are and that's where they've been luring them from. And so where your kids are, make it a point that you're there, too. Or someone is watching your child. And let them not be lured easily by a new best friend."

Harvill said, "That's how three of our victims were taken was they had a new best friend and they were just trying to help the friend out and got taken out of their home."

The proposed law would also affect people who solicit the services of prostitutes. After the first conviction, if arrested again, the customer would be facing a felony.

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