Westminster officer, detective uncover cross-state human trafficking ring


Calls like these rarely come in.

Westminster Officer Rachel Proulx on April 23 was dispatched to Motel 6 in the 13000 block of Goldenwest Avenue to investigate a prostitute reporting she had been assaulted. 

“We hardly ever get a prostitute calling as a victim of anything,” Proulx said. “Even if they are completely taken advantage of, they still won’t call the police.”

The woman who answered the door didn’t look like what some might imagine a prostitute would, Proulx said.

Long extensions framed a round, make-up free face. African-American and heavy-set, the woman wore denim shorts, a cotton T-shirt and sandals.

The two-bed room was nearly empty, save for a laptop and prepaid flip phone on the bed and a flannel jacket hanging in the corner that belonged to a John from a previous encounter.

The woman in her 20s saw Proulx and broke down, her story spilling out in a long narrative describing weeks of manipulation and abuse.

The woman told Proulx she started soliciting sex because a friend of hers had been in the business 10 years and seemed happy.

“The woman knew about this operation – she had been friends with one of the top prostitutes,” Proulx said. “She never gave in to it until she got down on her luck.”

With an 8-year-old son at home in Texas, the woman thought becoming a prostitute in California might help pay the bills and keep her family in an apartment.

She was among six women, including a minor, who were brought in from Texas to solicit sex in Orange County.

The woman told Proulx when she arrived in Westminster, she was quickly met with the harsh reality of her new life.

“She thought they would stay in nice hotels, go shopping at nice places and get all these fancy things,” Proulx said. “It was not high-society like she thought it would be.”

The woman’s roommate charged $100 for every man who wanted a “full session,” but she was only allowed to charge $40, she told police.

“She told me she didn’t make as much as the other girls because of her appearance,” Proulx said.

The woman told police because she couldn’t bring in as much money, sometimes her pimp would force her to skip meals. Her roommate would bring home leftovers so the woman had something to eat.

“Her main purpose for getting involved in this life was to make extra money,” Proulx said. “When she realized it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, she wanted out.”

After two months with the operation and less than two weeks in California, the woman realized she was trapped.

The pimp took her money, took away her phone and coerced her with emotional abuse.

“She told us she asked to go home, she tried to get out, but the pimp wouldn’t let her,” Proulx said. “She could try to leave, but she had no means to go anywhere.”

The woman told police she finally confronted the pimp, insisting he give her money to return to Texas.

He grabbed her by the throat, spit in her face and called her derogatory names, Proulx said.

So she called Westminster PD for help.

“When she saw us, you could see the relief on her face,” Proulx said. “She was very emotional.

“In this case, she was a victim, regardless of how she got into the situation.”

Proulx started taking the report as an assault case, but realized there was more to the story.

“I just felt like this was possibly the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I thought maybe if we pushed further, we might be able to get more.”

Rachel Proulx, an officer with Westminster PD for eight years, helped investigation an assault case that developed into uncovering a cross-state human trafficking ring. Photo by Jim Banks/Behind the Badge OC

Rachel Proulx, an officer with Westminster PD for eight years, helped investigation an assault case that developed into uncovering a cross-state human trafficking ring. Photo by Jim Banks/Behind the Badge OC

As the woman described the operation, Proulx suspected a human trafficking ring.

Proulx said the words “human trafficking” often evoke images of women shackled in the hull of a ship, carted overseas and sold into some form of slavery — sexual or otherwise.

“The term sounds so extreme,” she said. “But it’s not always like what you see in the movies.

“She was completely isolated. He would intimidate her and she couldn’t leave.”

Proulx sought the help of Westminster Detective Andy Stowers, who has expertise in the field and had served on the countywide Human Trafficking Task Force.

On their way to Westminster PD, Proulx stopped and bought the woman a chicken sandwich, fries and soda from Carl’s Jr. The woman hadn’t eaten all day.

When they arrived, Stowers met the woman and heard her story.

She talked and they listened, without interrupting.

Proulx said she remembered the victim had a great memory.

The woman could recall room numbers, partial license plate numbers, names and the types of vehicles involved in the prostitution operation.

Westminster police launched an investigation.

They set up surveillance and were able to identify several suspects from Texas involved in the human trafficking operation, Stowers said.

“During this whole process, Santa Ana PD got a phone call from a man in Texas saying his 17-year-old daughter was missing,” he said. “The father said she was in the company of one of the suspects we were investigating.”

With the reports from Santa Ana police and Westminster’s own investigation into their victim’s story, they had two suspects targeted.

“Between those two waves we were able to uncover everybody who was involved,” Stowers said.

Westminster police partnered with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force to conduct a surveillance operation on Thursday, April 30, at an Anaheim motel, where police believed the suspects to be.

Stowers said police watched as the 17-year-old girl and another woman climbed into a car with the suspects.

The teen wore heavy makeup, cutoff shorts, high heels and a see-through crop top with marijuana leaves on it.

Police stopped the vehicle, and the teen exited barefoot.

They learned she and the other woman were being held against their will.

“We interviewed the suspects and booked them,” Stowers said. “Through the Human Trafficking Task Force, we helped the victims get services. Then we got the 17-year-old back home to Texas.”

Lynn Anthony Bishop, 45, of Houston Texas, and Henry Ray Perry, 33, of Burbank on May 28 pleaded not guilty to 14 felony counts, including human trafficking, pimping a minor and pandering.

Bishop faces a sentencing enhancement for a 2000 robbery conviction in Harris County, Texas. Perry faces a sentencing enhancement for federal prison conviction related to transporting prostitutes in 2012.

A pretrial is scheduled for July 2, and a jury trial tentatively slated to begin July 16.