Advocate says human trafficking case highlights a Utah problem

Human trafficking case shows crime isn't just "Out There"

(KUTV) New charges were announced Friday in what the Attorney General's office says was a human trafficking ring out of Bountiful.

An alleged pimp was using drugs and threats of violence to get at least two women to work as his prostitutes. And, the AG's office indicated there would be more to come on this case.

"This is not just a problem over there ... as we might say in a third world, this is Utah," Matt Osborne from Operation Underground Railroad told 2News Friday, "I think it's important for people to realize that unfortunately there may be upwards of 100,000 girls -- young girls -- at risk right here in the United States."

Osborne has worked undercover, using his years of experience in the CIA and Department of State, with Operation Underground Railroad in multiple sex trafficking stings all around the world.

This recent case in Bountiful, he says shows this type of violent crime is happening right here in our backyard.

The new charges, including human trafficking, prostitution, witness tampering, among others, were filed against Todd Rettenberger, 37, already behind bars on a parole violation.

Rettenberger is no stranger to law enforcement. He served time on a manslaughter conviction connected to the 1996 botched Motel 6 robbery that left the night clerk dead.

He served five years in a plea deal he made in exchange for his testimony against two cohorts in the crime. He went back to prison on a 2011 conviction for sexual exploitation and money laundering and was paroled in November. He was back in trouble by January, according to Bountiful police.

According to a probable cause statement, one of the women was recruited by Rettenberger when they were both working at an Arctic Circle in Bountiful. It reads she even "turned a trick" for a John in Rettenberger's vehicle as he was driving through a car wash across the street from the Arctic Circle.

There were also alleged incidents at multiple hotels in Salt Lake City including the Plaza, Royal Garden, Little America and Ramada. Pictures of the women were placed as a part of an ad at Backpage.com.

"I fear too many people of a certain generation think of the movie "Pretty Woman" and Julia Roberts and her character -- that it was her choice and she chose herself to do that to make a living -- but studies show it is not their choice, they are being forced, the majority of them are being forced by a third party that is profiting," Osborne said via Skype.

According to the PC statement, nearly all of the money made was turned over to Rettenberger. The women told investigators they worked to pay off heroin debt, and coerced through threats of violence to them and their families.

One woman was allegedly taken across state lines to Oregon in February for multiple jobs there. She was said to have been thrown against a wall, threatened and forced back to work after Rettenberger found a text she had sent to her grandmother in Utah asking for help.

"This happens in every corner of the U.S., in every corner of the world. There are unfortunately no safe zones with this serious crime," Osborne said.

If you or someone you know is in a similar situation and in need of help, there are resources available at www.OurRescue.org.

"Abolitionist" -- a movie featuring the work of Operation Underground Railroad -- premieres May 16.

As for this case, the Attorney General's office wouldn't speak on it Friday due to the ongoing nature, but a statement called the charges "shocking and disturbing," saying it had been handed over to prosecutors.

Follow Amy Nay on Twitter @AmyNay2Newsfor breaking news, updates and more.

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