SC: Human trafficking happens more often than most know, SC officers say

News 19 –

A Richland County man is accused of coercing 9 separate victims into engaging in sex acts.

RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. — Local law enforcement is reminding the community that human trafficking crimes happen more often than they think after a Richland County man was arrested on a federal human trafficking indictment this week.

“A lot of people like to think it’s the bigger cities around, but it’s right here too,” Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Boan said.

Brian Leroy Watson, 48, was arrested and charged with nine counts of human trafficking and drug violations over a three year period, according to the U.S.  Attorney’s Office.

According to the indictment, the human trafficking crimes happened between 2016 and 2019.  The 12 page indictment claims Watson through coercion and other means caused 9 separate victims to engage in ‘commercial sex acts.’ The indictment says one of the victims was under the age of 18.

Multiple agencies played a role in Watson’s arrest, including the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office.

“When you hear human trafficking the thing most parents think about is when I’m taking my daughter to the store, I’m going to hold on extra tight and be looking around and you should do that, but that’s not this case here,” Boan said.

Boan said this case shows kidnapping isn’t always involved in human trafficking.

“A lot of the cases come with that dependency,” Boan said. “You have a young run away child or a child addicted to drugs, if you notice none of the indictments were for kidnapping.”

Richland County Sheriff’s Department was also involved in Watson’s arrest and Sheriff Leon Lott said these cases happen more often than the community realizes.

“Unfortunately a lot of it doesn’t get reported,” Lott said. “When victims can escape we hope they will contact us and that’s one thing we have to realize, they are victims. In the old days we used to treat them like suspects, but they are victims.”

The indictment also charges Watson with distributing heroin and fentanyl, and with unlawfully operating a Blythewood dwelling for the purpose of storing and distributing heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Both Lott and Boan agree drugs play a big role in human trafficking.

“This kind of thing goes on and like I said as long as people are addicted to drugs, as long as kids are running away from home thinking they can manage life on their own, this is where these guys are praying on.”

If you or someone you know may have information relevant to this investigation, please call FBI-Columbia at 803-551-4200.

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