Undercover stings lead to human trafficking arrests during NFL Draft in Detroit

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can always contact The National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BEFREE (233733).

To report any suspected human trafficking to Michigan State Police, call 888-373-7888.


The NFL Draft drew huge crowds to Detroit, and with record crowds comes an increased chance for crime, especially human trafficking.

"It's like the supply and demand. If there is more demand in an area, the suppliers want to be there to take advantage of that," said Det. Lt. Edward Price, with Michigan State Police.

During the draft, a multi-agency task force spent two days searching for human traffickers and victims during an undercover sting operation, and FOX 2 went along to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look.

Hundreds of social media posts led police to the sex workers who descended on the Detroit area during the massive event.

"I've traveled to different states to do some of the larger events – Super Bowl, All-Star games, things of that nature, for trafficking and trying to recover victims," Price said.

Price has become a go-to detective for these types of crimes, and he was there as police searched hotel rooms as part of the sting.

The operation brought police to several hotels around the area, including a hotel in Canton, where a 34-year-old woman from the Dominican Republic was hysterical and shaking, detectives said. Police removed the woman from the location and seized phones and journals in hopes of finding the people who trafficked her.

Police were also led to a hotel in Romulus, where a 24-year-old sex worker from Missouri flew in specifically for the draft. Her five children, who are all younger than 7, were found down the hall.

"You learn in this job to never be surprised. We have gotten kids out of hotel rooms before as we are out doing human trafficking sex stings," Price said. "I will say I have never gotten five out of one room."

Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry with millions of cases reported around the world. The draft sting not only brings attention to the situation locally, but also helps those trapped in the cycle. 

The victims removed from the situations were provided with resources to help them find new paths. It can take several tries to break the human trafficking cycle and get a victim out of it for good.

"This person may provide a place for them to stay. This person may say, ‘If you go, you have nine other criminal warrants that somebody is then going to call you in for again,’ so they create fear," said Melissa Novak, an FBI victim specialist.

Novak was one of the people who talked the survivors through their trauma as they were provided resources.

"We started during Covid with two advocates and ended up expanding our services to four, and we just added 10 in February," said Abigail Leightner, a victim services sub-unit manager with the state. 

The draft busts resulted in three arrests and 14 women asking for help getting out of their situations.

Though not all the encounters during the two days involved human trafficking, the ones that did will require extensive investigations spanning multiple states. 

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