Probe into Winnipeg human trafficking ring nets three-year sentence: WPS

A Winnipeg man has been handed a three-year sentence after a lengthy investigation into human trafficking in Manitoba.

The Wininpeg Police Service (WPS) gave details of the long-term probe and the legal fallout at a news conference Friday.

According to WPS, its counter exploitation unit started a long-term investigation in 2019 called ‘Project Bluff.’

“It started out with victims coming forward – that’s a lot of our investigations,” said Staff Sargent Maria Koniuuk, who worked in the counter exploitation for many years.

“What was unique about this one is that we clearly recognized that there was a potential for more, and so we were building evidence for other potential victims who we did not know would come forward or not.”

Investigators identified two victims who gave details of their recruitment by the same man to work as escorts.

According to WPS, the trafficker posted photos of the victims in online ads initially offering massage services, eventually transitioning them to give sexual services.

In April 2021, officers carried out search warrants at three rental properties in Winnipeg believed to be used for human trafficking.

WPS said one man was taken into custody and more than $42,000 in Canadian currency was seized.

Throughout the investigation, officers met with many others potentially exploited in the human trafficking ring.

Koniuck said some were recruited during the pandemic, at a time when many were looking for income online.

“At the time, a lot of people were using social media differently, where they were actually selling photos or videos, and this is where the victims were identified by the accused and recruited in that manner,” she said.

“You have a situation where people are more desperate, they’re looking for more income. As all of us dealt with through the pandemic, we didn’t know what was going to happen month-to-month, so that probably played a role in people moving with him.”

Ferosh Tailor, 33, from Winnipeg was charged with two counts of procuring a person to provide sexual services, advertising sexual services, material benefit from sexual services, and sexual assault.

Police say Tailor was sentenced in May 2022 to three years in custody for the charge of material benefit for sexual services. Police said the remaining charges against him were stayed.

WPS said ‘Project Bluff’ is the first of its kind in Manitoba to produce such a substantial sentence.

“That three years is very significant because you have an individual here who does not have a criminal record,” Koniuck said.

Koniuk said the investigation was a lengthy one to ensure if more victims came forward, officers already had supporting evidence in place and would not have to solely rely on victim testimony.

“From my understanding of the last statistics on human trafficking, 90 per cent of charges never go to conviction because there’s so much reliance on victims having to testify. We wanted to have all the evidence so we could try to minimize the trauma to victims when court proceedings began,” she said.

Police ask anyone with information or who wishes to speak to an investigator about crimes related to procuring sexual services or human trafficking to contact the counter exploitation unit at 204-986-3464 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.

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