HALIFAX – Two Toronto-area men have been charged in an 18-month, seven-province investigation into a human trafficking ring that allegedly forced ”numerous” Nova Scotia women into the sex trade across Canada.
The arrests of Malachi Almonzo Downey, 31, and Sanderico Rekel Beals, 29, follow earlier charges against Lorenzo Trevor Thomas, and police say all three are associated with a Halifax-area street gang known as North Preston’s Finest.
“The investigation started as a result of information received that men who were originally from Nova Scotia were in Ontario and were trafficking in women also from Nova Scotia, trafficking and exploiting them across country in the sex trade,” RCMP Supt. Alfredo Bangloy said.
“We’ve identified a number of victims, and the investigation remains fluid and it’s our hope that additional victims or their families and loved ones will come forward with information.”
The probe, dubbed Operation Hellbender, saw Nova Scotia Mounties travel “across the country in an effort to locate victims of human trafficking from Nova Scotia.”
Downey, who lives in Vaughan, Ont., was arrested in Upper Onslow, N.S., on Friday, while Beals, of Scarborough, Ont., was arrested Sunday in Dartmouth.
They are charged with human trafficking, laundering crime proceeds and receiving material benefits from sexual services and human trafficking.
Bangloy said the busts are a big deal for the Mounties: “There’s been human trafficking charges in the past here in Nova Scotia but none of those investigations were of the scale that this has been,” he said.
“The investigation is ongoing and there may be further charges.”
Thomas, 31, was arrested by police in Niagara Falls, Ont., on March 27. He’s facing 17 charges, including trafficking in persons, assault, advertising sexual services and receiving a material benefit from sexual services.
RCMP officers worked with their provincial counterparts in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as with Halifax Regional Police.
RCMP said they have set up a tip line for other victims: 902-449-2425.
“Our goal is to get victims to safety and link them with resources and support to break the cycle of violence,” Bangloy said.