US federal investigators busted a global prostitution ring that had enslaved hundreds of young women from Thailand.
The authorities in Minneapolis arrested 12 Thai nationals and five Americans after a nation-wide crackdown on the ring that trapped Thai women in sex trade after bringing them over to the country offering jobs and better lifestyle.
The arrested ringleaders used fraudulent visas to transport the women the United States, where they became "modern-day sex slaves," the Star Tribune quoted attorneys as saying.
"What makes this particular case so significant is that global impact, how large this network was. We're talking about pretty much all of the major metropolitan hubs â so the reach of this organization is massive," Alex Khu, special agent in charge for US Homeland Security Investigations, said.
The arrests followed sweeping operations in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Minneapolis and Minnesota, where the trafficked women were deployed, the Department of Justice said.
The alleged traffickers face charges including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, coercion, forced labor, money laundering and visa fraud.
Prosecutors said the women were offered jobs in the US and a personal loan of large sums to facilitate their travel to the country. However, once they were in the US, the women were forced to work as sex slaves to repay the amounts spent on them.
In some cases they were even forced to work longer to repay the cost incurred on breast implants, the report said.
"Once in the United States, victims were allegedly placed in houses of prostitution, where they were forced to work long hours -- often all day, every day," a DoJ statement said.
The Tribune said the federal agencies were alerted about the sex ring after local people noticed Thai women being transported in and out of hotels in the city.
"The 17 people charged in this indictment ran a highly sophisticated sex trafficking scheme," US Attorney Andrew Luger of the District of Minnesota, said, according to CNN.
"They promised women in Thailand a chance at the American dream, but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare. In short, the victims lived like modern day sex slaves."
The traffickers also face charges relating to the forging of fraudulent visas and travel documents.
Thailand, which has been in the crosshairs of international rights agencies, had for years ranked as one of the worst human trafficking offenders in a US State Department report.
"Thailand has adopted a zero tolerance policy toward human trafficking," Bangkok's ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement, CNN reported.
"Such cases exemplify the need for concerted efforts between nations in bringing the offenders to justice. Thailand stands ready to cooperate with the US."