Geoffrey Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks at a press conference about the apprehension of a suspect in the recent spate of mail bombings at the Department of Justice on October 26, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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Federal prosecutors have charged 19 people in connection with a sex-trafficking ring that exploited teenage victims in New York.

The New York Times reports that the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, the F.B.I. and the police department announced charges on Thursday against defendants who preyed on at least 15 teens in the child welfare system. Nine of them were residents at the Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Residential Treatment Center, a center for children with emotional and behavioral problems in Mount Pleasant, New York. “Many of the girls in the rehabilitation center had been placed there in the first place to rescue them from the sex trade,” the Times reported.

In recent months, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Service, which manages Hawthorne, announced the shuttering of the facility after receiving sanctions from New York’s child welfare office. In December 2017, the New York Times reported that a teen goes missing from Hawthorne “nearly every day.”

The Times summarizes some of the crimes, based on court documents:

One defendant, Hubert Dupigny, 34, recruited a 16-year-old girl from Hawthorne who worked for him as a prostitute until he was arrested in December 2016, prosecutors wrote. At that point, the girl went to work for his brother, Hensley Dupigny, 29, who posted advertisements for her on Backpage.com and collected most of her earnings, the prosecutors said.

A prosecutor said at a court hearing in August for Hensley Dupigny that the alleged conspiracy was “particularly egregious” because the defendants sought out minors in the social services system, often children with behavioral or emotional problems who had become wards of the state.

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The defendants, who pleaded not guilty, “approached victims as if they had a romantic interest in them,” said prosecutor Elinor Tarlow. “They offered them a place to stay and then they pushed them into prostitution.”

“Children in the child welfare system are among the most vulnerable in our society,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “The defendants and their conspirators callously recruited girls as young as 13 from a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth then sexually trafficked and prostituted them for financial profit.”

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Lawyers for the Dupigny brothers did not offer a comment to the Times.