A local couple and another man have been arrested on suspicion of taking part in a large-scale sex trafficking ring centered in San Ramon and Danville over the past 14 years, authorities announced Tuesday afternoon.
James Joseph Jr. and his common-law wife, Avisa Lavassani, remain in custody awaiting arraignment on charges of human trafficking, conspiracy to commit human trafficking and other counts, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office. Anthony Reynolds, accused of assisting in the nationwide operation, also awaits arraignment in custody, prosecutors said.
Authorities allege the multi-agency investigation into Joseph and Lavassani "uncovered a wide-ranging human trafficking operation that stretched from California to Cleveland, to Miami and to New York" and netted the couple tens of thousands of dollars per week when utilizing multiple trafficking victims at once.
"This investigation has shown us that human trafficking does not stay within jurisdictional lines, and it doesn't just happen in big cities or at ports and truck stops," said San Ramon police chief Joe Gorton, whose department helped spearhead the investigation that began in April. "Human trafficking can occur anywhere, and it can be hidden in plain sight."
San Ramon police started investigating the couple after receiving information obtained through prior victims, according to the DA's office. A months-long wire-tap and field-surveillance effort also involved DA's office investigators and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force.
"We are committed to investigate and prosecute human traffickers in Contra Costa County," DA Mark Peterson said. "There is no room in our society for treating human beings as slaves and property that can be bought and sold."
The FBI Contra Costa County Safe Streets Task Force consists of police officers and investigators from the FBI, Antioch Police Department, Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, Richmond Police Department, Contra Costa County Probation Department, California Department of Corrections, Pittsburg Police Department and the San Ramon Police Department.
The DA's Office also said several victim/witness advocates were used in the investigation, working exclusively with victims and witnesses of violent crime.
The dates of the court appearances for Joseph, Lavassani and Reynolds were not immediately available.