MEBANE, NC – An investigation into a school’s athletic program may have exposed a human trafficking case. What may be unusual about this case, according to the Alamance County Sheriff, is the possibility at least one student was in the country illegally to play sports.
Athletic trafficking or human trafficking through physical ability or sports is a lesser known version of the one of the largest crimes in the nation, but it still happens.
Children and teenagers are recruited from foreign countries with the promise of an education and money to play sports. According to Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, Aris Hines and Brandi Thomason used fraudulent documents to enroll a student from Nigeria, into the Eastern Alamance High athletic program. The student played basketball and football while enrolled at the school.
False documents from Nigeria and false custody agreements were presented at different places in the county.
Johnson said the student was used for the possibility of future profit and for his athletic ability.
“You don’t bring kids into the United States from other countries and not make something, I can tell you that right now. Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry,” said Johnson. “Certainly this young man, and that’s the only one I can speak to, was used because of his athletic abilities and his size.”
During the investigation, Johnson said the student was found living with four other student-athletes in a house with no adult supervision. An investigation was also launched into the four other student-athletes that were discovered.
Joe McCann, Director of the anti-human trafficking organization, World Relief High Point, said it’s not unusual for people to be lured under false pretenses. And just like any other form of trafficking, the victim is usually exploited in some fashion.
“People who are vulnerable and looking for opportunity will get exploited with promises of great jobs, opportunities for advancement in a career or a sport they’re involved with,” said McCann.
All instances of human trafficking share another common thread; the crime is rarely reported and it’s hard to document the exact amount of sex or human trafficking cases ongoing in the country and the world.
Last year in March, the Department of Homeland Security discovered 30 young boys in Georgia, living in a school gym and sleeping on the floor. The boys, mostly Dominican, were recruited to America and had been living in the gym for almost three years.
While Hines and Thomason are only currently charged with Felony Common Law Obstruction of Justice and Obtaining Property by False Pretense, Johnson said their office will continue to investigate the alleged human trafficking case.
“There is someone in these other countries that are shipping these kids to this individual which is a common denominator of your human trafficking,” Johnson said a news conference Tuesday morning.
Johnson added Hines previously brought at least 18 young boys and girls to Robeson County, where they were housed until the Robeson County District Attorney started an investigation. Johnson said Hines registered the children in different school and registered them to vote. It’s unclear if the 18 children were also enrolled in any sports program.
The sheriff also said Hines and Thomas tried to enroll three girls into the Alamance County School system. When the school system realized their documents were false, their admission was denied. Those girls, according to Johnson, have seemingly disappeared.