By AUSTIN MONTGOMERY

Editor’s note: Human trafficking is a crime that is getting more attention locally and across the nation. There are challenges in identifying perpetrators and victims, but locally, citizens have been trained to assist in identifying human trafficking. This is the first in a three-part series on what is being done locally regarding human trafficking.

BELOIT—With Beloit positioned as a transportation hub near Milwaukee and Chicago, the Beloit Police Department says it is taking steps to combat human trafficking and raise awareness in the community about the problem.

Beloit Police Department Inspector Tom Stigler, who worked on numerous trafficking cases in Milwaukee, said the department trains all officers on spotting possible signs of human trafficking, and how to handle those situations.

“They have to figure out how to sensitively handle working with a victim,” Stigler said. “It has to get moved up the chain of command and we have to have investigators that know what to do with that victim. It could be something initially reported as a domestic disturbance, battery or sex assault.”

In 2019, Beloit did not participate in any trafficking investigations, Stigler said. However, two Janesville residents are accused of running a drug-fueled sex ring, according to federal court records.

Cory D. Hereford, 48, faces seven counts related to alleged sex trafficking of a minor following an indictment in September of 2019 by federal authorities out of the Western District Court of Wisconsin.

Tonyiel Partee, 28, is also named in the indictment having allegedly assisted Hereford in trafficking multiple women.

Hereford was arrested in 2018 following an investigation by Janesville Police Department and Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation. Partee was not named until the indictment by federal authorities.

According to the indictment, Hereford allegedly “enticed, harbored, transported and maintained” an underage girl “to engage in a commercial sex act” between September and October of 2017.

The indictment claims that between June and December of 2017, Hereford and Partee allegedly also attempted to traffic multiple women, but does not list a specific number of victims, only specifying “Jane Doe 2 and other adult females.”

The final count of the indictment claims Hereford maintained a home in the 400 block of Franklin Street for the purpose of distributing and using controlled substances including crack cocaine and heroin.

A final pre-trial hearing was held on May 18 and trial is scheduled for Aug. 3, according to federal court records. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger.

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has reported over 199,163 cases of human trafficking. Estimates suggest that about 50,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, most often from Mexico and the Philippines.

In 2018, 51.6% of criminal human trafficking cases active in the U.S. involved only children, according to DoSomething.org, a nonprofit dedicated to change and supporting young people across 131 countries.

But that doesn’t mean the department is sitting idly by.

“We tell our officers that when they come across someone—especially a young woman or man—who has been battered and is reluctant to talk to police, that is the person they need to spend extra time with,” Stigler said. “They need to talk about their background, where they grew up, where they have been and who have they been associated with and who they get money from.”

Investigating human trafficking cases can be extremely difficult, Stigler said. Local law enforcement agencies don’t often have the resources to conduct a robust investigation on their own. Stigler said most trafficking cases are handled at the federal level.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult type of law enforcement investigations to put together,” Stigler said. “It takes a lot of expertise and takes the right investigators and right support behind them.”

That’s why Stigler said the establishment of the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force in 2017 was vital for protecting at-risk individuals in Rock County. Stigler said the task force is bringing service providers together to highlight a problem and assist potential trafficking victims.

“They do have direction they have leadership and they are accomplishing what they set out to accomplish,” Stigler said.

If a case in Beloit does surface, Beloit police will be ready, Stigler said.

“If we come across that type of perpetrator here in Beloit, there’s no reason as to why we couldn’t conduct an investigation that could be forwarded to prosecution,” Stigler said.