Three defendants tied to San Diego human trafficking investigation plead not guilty to felony charges
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — A yearlong human trafficking investigation in San Diego County uncovered at least seven victims who were allegedly pimped and trafficked for years by three defendants in San Marcos, authorities said Monday.
Tyrone Evans, 40, Lila Lefors, 36, and Natasha McElrath, 37, were arrested Friday and pleaded not guilty today to multiple felony charges in San Diego Superior Court.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said “Operation Hotel Tango” was the second successful investigation this month by the Human Trafficking Task Force in San Diego County that dismantled a significant sex trafficking operation.
"This month’s successful takedown of two sex trafficking operations is further evidence of law enforcement’s commitment and cooperation in San Diego County to stop the scourge of human trafficking,” Dumanis said. "Our partners at the Human Trafficking Task Force continue to rescue victims of sex
trafficking on a regular basis and the DA’s Office is holding the individuals who exploit these young women and girls responsible for their crimes.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan described Evans as the "mastermind” of "Operation Hotel Tango” and said McElrath was an "insider” who worked in the hotel industry.
Sheriff’s officials said the investigation started with a tip.
The human trafficking operation moved drugs and forced women in their 20s and 30s into prostitution, officials said.
Authorities believe there are dozens of victims in several states.
Victims were dependent on Evans for money and said he would leave them stranded and without enough money to eat, authorities said.
"Human traffickers exploit vulnerable children and adults, subjecting their victims to manipulation, violence and unspeakable cruelty while forcing them into labor and prostitution,” said state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Evans is charged with 22 felony counts, including human trafficking, pimping and pandering. He was ordered held on $800,000 bail and faces more than 29 years in prison if convicted.
Lefors and McElrath were each charged with six felony counts, including human trafficking, pimping and pandering. Both defendants face 24 years and eight months behind bars if convicted.
A status conference was set for June 27.