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Sex Trafficking: A Hidden Crime Exposed

For some, the house at 1125 Vandiver Drive sporting a large Green Bay Packers helmet on the front window is hard to miss. But for at least the past year, federal authorities claim it’s been hiding a dark secret inside — women forced into prostitution.

“Nothing’s changed in the fact that trafficking exists everywhere, in all communities, in many different forms,” said Nanette Ward, with Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. “We have every reason to continue to believe trafficking exists across our state.”

In February, Kenneth Jones, 25, of Columbia, was charged in federal court with sex trafficking a minor. According to the criminal complaint, FBI agents learned in June 2016, that a 17-year-old runaway from Wisconsin was being held against her will and forced into prostitution by Jones.

One month later he was charged with more human trafficking crimes as two more women came forward.

The women said the events all happened inside the home on Vandiver Drive rented by Barry Manthe and Ronald Clark, who were eventually arrested during a raid of the home by the police department and FBI agents on March 30.

“These are horrible, horrible cases,” said FBI Special Agent Heith Janke, who supervises the human trafficking squad at the bureau office in Kansas City. “We’re talking about a crime against humanity.”

Manthe’s arrest in March wasn’t his first run-in with the FBI. In 2014, he was arrested during a prostitution sting at a Columbia hotel where was arrested on suspicion of promoting prostitution, but was only charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

Longtime members of other local law enforcement agencies claim Manthe was a part of similar crimes in the past. Detective Tom O’Sullivan with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department said Manthe was involved in running several massage parlors in the Prathersville area during the late 80s and early 90s.

“It’s pretty easy when you’re advertising that type of business for everybody to see,” he said. “We had some of our drug enforcement officers start an investigation into those businesses. What we found in addition to prostitution, we found drug usage, drug sales and stolen property.”

O’Sullivan said the department’s investigations eventually forced the businesses to shut down and relocate.

“I think we accomplished our mission. We shut them down and got them out of there.”

Where Manthe went next is unclear. ABC 17 News left messages with the listed property owner of 1125 Vandiver, Christopher Felten, but have yet to receive a reply.

Janke said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation into the house on Vandiver Drive or provide specific statistics relating to the number of human trafficking cases in the state. He did describe Missouri as being a “target-rich environment” for the crime with major interstates and two international airports.

Between special agents, local police detectives and other task force agencies, Janke said there’s about 20 people working on human trafficking cases in his division.

“From a resource standpoint, we’re looking for the big picture here,” he said. “We don’t want to take down just a single trafficker. Our goal, federally, is to take down the entire criminal networks.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 135 human trafficking cases were reported in Missouri in 2016, doubling from the year before.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley describes the crime as a growing problem in the state.

In April, Hawley announced a list of initiatives designed to combat human trafficking in Missouri including created a statewide task force, state hotline reporting number and training for law enforcement.

“That’s why these new tools that we have developed are a way to get at that problem and increase the prosecution and tell traffickers, ‘Don’t come to our state. Don’t attempt to use your crimes in this state,'” he said.

The task force met for its first quarterly meeting on May 10.

Ward, who helped found the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition nearly a decade ago, is now a member of the task force. She said she’s most looking forward to exploring new ways to provide training to spot human trafficking.

“I hope it will put us ahead of the game here. We’re behind,” she said. “Traffickers are ahead of us. We have been fighting an uphill battle and we have to take this really seriously, we have to do some really significant different things, because if you do the same thing, nothing changes.”

Manthe and Clark were both released from federal custody on April 4. Jones is scheduled to go before a jury in September.

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