INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A sex and human trafficking bust led to more than 20 arrests and claims of drugs and forced imprisonment. A high-speed chase ended with one of the suspects in custody, facing a federal charge.
Of all the arrests made in the bust, the one case that will be seen in federal court tells a chilling story that sex trafficking advocates say is unfortunately common.
The Interstate 70 and Noland Road corridor is a crossroads of activity. Independence police targeted the hub filled surrounded by fast food, big box stores and hotel chains to find prostitution hiding in rooms for rent.
“This is a real issue and an injustice,” Denise Lester, an advocate with Rended Heart, said.
The Independence Police Department said they worked with the Department of Homeland Security on the series of stings.
One person their investigation uncovered was 48-year-old Jeffrey Higgins. The federal complaint against Higgins alleges he was holding a woman and her child against their will at their home in Olathe beginning sometime around June.
The complaint didn’t indicate how the two knew each other, but the woman told investigators she couldn’t get Higgins to leave her home in Olathe. He isn’t the father of her young child. Identified in the complaint as Female Victim 1, she told detectives Higgins was violent with her on occasion.
At some point, according to court documents, Higgins allegedly began to post the victim on escort websites against her will. The documents claim Higgins would not allow the victim to have a job and had emptied her bank account.
The victim explains in the complaint that she didn’t want to perform sex acts for money. That’s when she said Higgins began injecting her with methamphetamine and heroin to force her into it.
Lester said this is something she sees is becoming more common in sex trafficking.
“Many times we hear our clients say, ‘I don’t do drugs. They drugged me,'” Lester said. “They obviously have to go through the whole withdrawal and recovery process because it’s still in their system. But that’s an unfortunate injustice to them because they never chose to do those drugs.”
The complaint said an undercover officer responded to an ad for her on an escort website and agreed to meet her at a hotel at I-70 and Noland Road. She showed up at the hotel and agreed to perform a sex act with the undercover officer.
The complaint says the woman was relieved when she found out the man in the room was actually an investigator.
She told police that Higgins was in the parking lot in his Ford Escape with her young child in the backseat, and she feared for their safety.
Officers had already attempted to make contact with Higgins in the parking lot, and a high speed police pursuit was already underway. When officers heard that a young child was in the car they stopped pursuing Higgins openly and followed him at a distance.
Police said Higgins continued to drive erratically across the state line into Wyandotte County where they alerted the Kansas Highway Patrol. Higgins stopped at a gas station where KHP approached Higgins’ Ford Escape.
Troopers said when he saw them coming he tried to take the child out of their car seat, but ultimately left the child and ran.
He was arrested and booked in Wyandotte County for aggravated endangering a child and possession of certain stimulants.
“What is important to them is if you are in demand and if they are going to make a profit off of you,” Lester said. “It is a crisis, and we need to work together to end demand for this and tear down pornography so it’s not so readily available to our children in our homes, and then be sensitive to individuals that are being trafficked.”
In Higgins SUV, the complaint says they also found a syringe with a substance inside that is currently being analyzed by a crime lab. Investigators said the victim showed them several bruises on her body and injection spots where she said Higgins injected her against her will.
Higgins has a criminal history across state lines starting with felony theft in Johnson County back in 1995.
In Missouri from 2006-2015 he pleaded guilty to tampering with a motor vehicle, possession of marijuana, leaving the scene of an accident, and driving without a license. In Johnson County he pleaded guilty to forgery in 2014, along with possession, and theft in 2016.
He is currently being held at an undisclosed facility on a federal transportation for prostitution charge.
The bust led to nearly 35 state and city charges overall.