'These predators are entrepreneurs:' Homeland Security talks efforts to shut down online sex trafficking

A recently-arrested child sex trafficking suspect used two websites to post ads for her, according to court documents. Law enforcement officials told FOX 13 that the issue isn't as simple as having the website shut down for good.

"It's a game of cat and mouse," said Robert Hammer, the Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations "Once we find one, we shut it down. Creators open up another one under a different name."

In court documents, a detective described the two websites as 'prominent in the greater Seattle area.'

FOX 13 researched one of those websites and found thousands of ads for sexual services, but it's clear the issue expands outward of Seattle and into the entire Northwest region. 

Idaho has about 10,000 ads on these sites, while California has more than 11,000 ads and Washington state has more than 375,000 ads online for sex.

"I don't take solace in the fact that there is even one out there," said Hammer. "Any ad is a danger to a child. It only takes one. And, whether there are 300,000 ads or there's one ad, there is somebody out there that is going to be a predator out there to a child, and we go after that person."

Hammer said his team constantly keeps tabs on these sites, but they keep coming.

So, why not just shut down these sites? We've seen this happen with Backpage-- a site rivaling Craigslist, but had prominent sections for sex work and sexual services. Backpage was shut down permanently in 2018. However, HSI said they're more interested in the web pages and its customers.

"How beneficial would it be to turn off that entire website and shut that avenue down? So that's what we continue to look for," Hammer said. "We continue to look for getting the biggest bang for our buck in terms of the investigation and really going to those choke points. In our view, it's the servers, it's the websites that are hosting all of this material and opening up the avenues of communication with these children."

Hammer said it's more important now than ever to keep conversations open with your kids and teenagers. Like it or not, there are predators online, and they're finding every opportunity to connect.

"These predators are entrepreneurs," Hammer said. "Where one door closes, they look for another door to open. Whether we address one problem, they're always going to be looking for what can satisfy their sick desires."


Bellevue Police rescue 15-year-old girl from Maple Valley sex trafficking suspect

Detectives arrested a man on sex trafficking charges at his Maple Valley home earlier this month, and rescued a 15-year-old victim who was allegedly being forced to have sex with his clients.

In the meantime, 42-year-old Tony Eldridge remains in jail on a $500,000 bail. 

Detectives arrested Eldridge at his Maple Valley home earlier this month. A room in this house also served as a place where people could have sex.

Eldridge's arrest came after police found a 15-year-old victim at the Courtyard Marriott in Bellevue. She told police, she was being forced to have sex with his clients. 

According to court documents, that teenage girl told detectives, Eldridge was using two websites to post ads for her, stating she would have sex with them for money.

During his first appearance in a King County courtroom on Thursday, he was seen shaking his head as his charges were read out to him. Prosecutors brought up his criminal history with commercial sex. 

Eldridge is facing charges of human trafficking, promoting prostitution and child rape. 

Prosecutors told the judge on Thursday they're concerned Eldridge will interfere with justice administration.

Eldridge's attorney asked the judge for reduced bail or if he could be released with an electronic monitoring device with internet tracking.

The judge denied that request and told Eldridge and his defense that he still needs to come up with $500,000 bail to be released. If that happened, he would have an electronic monitoring device with interest tracking.