A closer look at human trafficking in South Dakota

Image Credit: MGN
Image Credit: MGN(KALB)
Published: Jul. 24, 2017 at 10:15 PM CDT
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The death toll has climbed to 10 after several people were found inside a semi at a Walmart in San Antonio, Texas.

It turns out that truck has ties to the Midwest. The trailer is registered to Pyle Transportation Incorporated out of Schaller, Iowa.

The company has faced lawsuits and been investigated by the IRS for not paying employees' wages or its taxes. The company says it sold the truck found in Texas and was delivering it to the purchaser.

While the connection to the Midwest may seem shocking, people who work with human trafficking victims in South Dakota aren't batting an eye.

South Dakota is one of the least populated states in the country, but that doesn't mean it's immune to this kind of crime.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports nearly 300 calls from people in South Dakota since 2007.

68 of those calls were made last year alone.

“It is happening here in Sioux Falls, it is happening here in South Dakota,” Call to Freedom Executive Director Becky Rasmussen stated.

Call to Freedom is a nonprofit that has helped dozens victims of human trafficking in the area.

“We've served 81 individuals from youth, women, and one male, and families throughout the last year and a half,” she said. “Primarily we're seeing a lot more sex trafficking here in the state of South Dakota.”

That's something the Minnehaha County Sheriff's Office echoes.

“Centered on prostitution and sex trafficking,” Sheriff Mike Milstead stated.

Rasmussen says people can be trafficked into the state for big events.

“Event trafficking which is Sturgis, hunting season, so anytime there's large gatherings of individuals,” she explained.

But the most common kind is...

“Homegrown and that's probably the most typical in the state of South Dakota. Homegrown is relational trafficking, it's a mother or father trafficking their own child,” she said.

The county is home to the I-29 and I-90 interchange, which drives crime through the area.

“A lot of traffic, people moving things across the country whether they're people, or drugs, or cash,” he explained.

South Dakota lawmakers are working to put the brakes on that.

The incident in San Antonio isn’t the first time people have been trafficked using a semi.

Senator John Thune has introduced a bill that would disqualify commercial drivers from operating for the rest of their lives if they're caught using their vehicle to commit a human trafficking felony.

“We have that intersection of traffic coming through. We're going to see that not necessarily it's grown out of here, but they're traveling through here,” Rasmussen pointed out.

She says it's important to know the signs of human trafficking and to call the National Human Tracking Hotline if anyone suspects something illegal.

She says if someone hadn't called in, what happened in San Antonio could have been even worse.

Both the driver and the owner of Pyle Transportation Incorporated say they did not know people were inside the trailer.

Investigators say James Bradley was the man behind the wheel.

Federal prosecutors have charged him with knowingly transporting illegal aliens. He could face the death penalty if he's convicted.