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Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said his office took part in a yearlong, nationwide human-trafficking investigation that resulted in the arrest of 15 Asian women who offered erotic massages and escort services through online ads.

Also arrested were three owners of call centers in Florida and California with ties to China.

The sheriff's electronic evidence unit helped handle some of the search warrants that helped investigators get evidence that led to the arrests, Wagner said.

He said the complex investigation focused on the use of websites such as Backpage and City Vibe, where the ads were posted.

Wagner said the ads were covers for prostitution services offered in dozens of U.S. cities, and the profits were funneled to Asian-based stakeholders in the U.S.

“Operation Extended Stay” spanned more than a year and concluded April 10, with federal and local law enforcement serving multiple search warrants in Omaha; Bakersfield, California; Los Angeles; Salt Lake City, Utah; Orlando, Florida; Lafayette, Louisiana; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.

Investigators were still exploring whether the women were being trafficked, he said.

Lancaster County deputies were not involved in the arrests of the 15 women. 

Wagner didn't have additional details on the arrests of the women, including which states they were arrested in, or the arrests of the call center owners, who investigators believe coordinated their travels.

The far-reaching nature of the investigation surprised Wagner, he said.

"There were even connections with China as far as Chinese females coming to this country," the sheriff said.

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Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.


Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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