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In the Pipeline: The shadowy face of human trafficking

October 22, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy CHRIS…)

She does not look like a sex slave. Pretty, with coffee-colored skin, looking perhaps 17 years old, she could be a cheerleader, or volleyball player, or a dancer — anything but what is seems she is.

But we found her photo online, someone in our group spoke to her on the phone numerous times to try to make an appointment with her, and so here we are. She dips her feet in the hotel Jacuzzi, which is adjacent to the outdoor swimming pool. Three young kids frolic in the water just inches from her. They are on vacation. She is not.

She just stares off into space, clutching her cell phone, waiting for our next call. I'm watching her from a second-floor landing. She doesn't know it because I'm crouched around a corner. The mood is tense, taut and frankly, depressing. I have a 16-year-old daughter safe and snug at home as I huddle in the night watching this girl. How did she get here?

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This was one of my introductions to an apparent case of human trafficking in Orange County.

For Greg Reese, it's just another Saturday night. Reese is president of Clear Image Investigations, a private detective firm located in Newport Beach. But the former Huntington Beach police officer does more than just private investigations. He dedicates, along with a team of volunteers, a substantial part of his life trying to help those that have been caught up in the insidious, death-spiral tunnel of human trafficking here in Orange County.

Last May, the Los Angeles Times reported on inspections of 20 massage parlors in Huntington Beach alone. The sweep was part of an investigation regarding allegations of prostitution and human trafficking. As Police Chief Ken Small said then, "Everybody knows that trafficking is taking place."

Small added that it's hard to get victims to play ball with police out of fear of retaliation from those that have taken over their lives.

Reese, whom I got to know this past summer, retired last year after 20 years working for the HBPD. As he explained to me, his faith led him to devote the time he does helping those who find themselves trapped in the seedy web of human trafficking.

"I was intending on taking a federal investigator position after my retirement, but God kept opening the doors in the private investigation field," he said. "My firm is a member of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, which is where I met the people I work with to help solve this incredible problem."

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