Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The man and woman arrested by FBI agents for allegedly operating a prostitution ring with underage woman appeared before a federal judge Tuesday.
An affidavit signed by a FBI Special Agent says an online ad led investigators to a Quality Inn hotel on Two Notch Road in Columbia. The documents say two people were involved in selling an underage girl for sex to an undercover officer.
The sting was part of a nationwide attack on underage prostitution called Operation Cross Country.
"We see this vulnerability space that seems to be around 13 to 16. It is more pronounced," said FBI Assistant Director Ronald Hosko.
In Columbia, William Gibson, 21, and Andrea Bostic, 20, were arrested.
The undercover officer who arranged the meet worked for the Richland County Sheriff's Office. Court documents say he was told to meet a girl named 'Tasha' in room 109 at the hotel. She told the deputy it would cost $80 for 30 minutes of time.
"Sometimes as a law enforcement community we treat the symptoms of human trafficking. We'll arrest the prostitute who is out there selling themselves on the street corner, and we might even get the pimp," said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. "But what about the system of human trafficking that supports that type of behavior?"
A state statute had put together a Human Trafficking Task Force.
Wilson says updated laws make South Carolina strict on offenders and gives the task force an opportunity to really make a difference.
"Sometimes a prostitute is just a prostitute. Sometimes a prostitute is a victim of human trafficking," Wilson said. "Training law enforcement on when to know the difference between those two types of scenarios, knowing what questions to ask, what evidence to collect, what sites to sting, those are the things we need to be educated on."
Those ideas are changing how law enforcers fight underage sex trafficking.
"The social media and ways of communication that you didn't have 20, 30 years ago has changed the face and how they do prostitution," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. "It's the same result but a different method. Instead of standing on the side of the road, now they're on a computer, showing on Facebook or these other lists."