Denver’s DA office just got a nearly $1 million federal grant to help address human trafficking

The money will be split between the DA’s office and a local organization helping victims.
4 min. read
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann speaks at a press conference inside her office at the Wellington Webb Municipal Building, Nov. 20. 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City and federal authorities on Tuesday announced that the Denver District Attorney's Office is receiving a nearly $1 million federal grant to help combat human trafficking and help victims in the city.

The $979,747 grant from the U.S. Justice Department will be split between the Denver DA's office ($543,555) and the Asian Pacific Development Center ($436,192), which is partnering with the DA's office to offer victims assistance. The money will be used over a three-year period and help fund the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance, a task force made up of several local and federal offices.

McCann said the office applied for the grant in July.

Asian Pacific Development Center executive director Harry Budisidharta said human trafficking is underreported, especially within immigrant and refugee communities.

"We are very happy about this grant because this grant will allow us to expand our work and expand our staff so that we can conduct more community outreach and provide more culturally-sensitive yet trauma-informed care for the survivors of traffickers," Budisidharta said.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said human trafficking in Denver is part of the city's "dark underbelly."

"I think most people go about their daily lives and they don't have a reason to be aware of it or they don't really want to learn a whole lot about it," McCann said. "We are working hard to increase the awareness."

Harry Budisidharta, executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center, speaks at a press conference inside the Denver District Attorney office at the Wellington Webb Municipal Building, Nov. 20. 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

She called Tuesday's announcement "exciting" for the offices, including Denver police, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office, who are working together to fight human trafficking in the city and country.

Since she took office, McCann has made targeting human trafficking a priority.

She helped start a human trafficking unit in the DA's office last year that includes a prosecutor, a criminal investigator, a program director and a victim advocate. The new funding will help fund a new full-time investigator, a shared coordinator and a full-time, community-based victim advocate employed through the Asian Pacific Development Center.

"Our philosophy is to make sure that our unit is victim-centered and that we really keep the interests of victims at the forefront," McCann said. "We take the interests of victims as the core of our approach and then develop cases from that."

U.S. Attorney for Colorado Jason Dunn said his office has indicted five people on human trafficking-related charges so far in 2018.

Three cases involved undercover agents posing as child victims. He said the grant will "go a long way" in combating such crimes.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips said people often become human trafficking victims gradually.

Phillips, who leads Denver's FBI field office, said victims come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and are often targeted.

"Many victims are lured with visions of a better life," Phillips said. "They are promised security, wealth and a safe place to live. Once in their new environment, however, captors force them into labor or prostitution and horrific living conditions."

McCann said there are human trafficking operations in the Denver area involving sex trafficking and labor trafficking, with local and immigrant victims. She also said most victims of labor trafficking end up in the construction industry.

"Our goals are to enhance our labor and sex trafficking efforts in the enforcement arena and also ensure that there's a comprehensive set of services available for victims," McCann said.

District 6 City Councilman Paul Kashmann, who chairs the council's safety committee, said he first became aware of human trafficking in the city until 2014.

"I thought it was something that more people needed to be aware of," Kashmann said. "It's a topic once you become aware, it's not something you want to let loose of."

FBI Special Agent In Charge Dean Phillips speaks at a press conference inside the Denver District Attorney office at the Wellington Webb Municipal Building, Nov. 20. 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

McCann said the human trafficking unit currently has five active cases, including four sex trafficking and one labor trafficking case, involving nine victims who are in the prosecutorial stage. Two cases, both of them involving sex trafficking, have already been resolved through pleas and sentencing.

McCann said the office currently has three open investigations.

"I am thrilled that we are able to really devote significant resources to this issue," McCann said.

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