A.G. investigators go undercover during Sundance Film Festival
PARK CITY — Undercover cops attended movies and mingled with crowds at parties and red carpet events at the Sundance Film Festival that ended Sunday.
Plain-clothes and uniformed officers from a half-dozen agencies and the FBI worked the annual festival that draws thousands of visitors from around the world to the mountain resort town.
But this was the first year investigators from the Utah Attorney General's Office roamed Park City looking for signs of human trafficking. They didn't find anything but say they learned they might not be looking in the right places.
"When it comes to the human trafficking element, we gained a lot of intelligence this year. We're going to build a better game plan for next year. We do know there are some signs of human trafficking during Sundance," said Nate Mutter, section chief for the attorney general's public corruption unit.
Attorney General Sean Reyes, wearing a black beanie and T-shirt instead of a suit, and a couple of investigators spent part of Saturday night at the Sundance awards ceremony in the Basin Recreation Center informally talking to festival officials and others about human trafficking.
Reyes was careful to say that trafficking isn't incidental to the film festival but could occur during large-scale events around the country.
State agents mostly went to official venues and activities during the 10-day festival. He said next year they want to infiltrate high-end private parties that pop up but are not affiliated with the film festival.
His office intends to use more civilian contacts to slip into parties that draw high rollers and take a lot of cash for an invitation, Reyes said.
"We're going to be smarter and work earlier and harder to infiltrate those parties because we believe those are where human trafficking is most likely to occur," Reyes said.
Reyes has made human trafficking a top priority for not only his office but personally. In 2014, he traveled to Colombia with Utah-based Operation Underground Railroad to help rescue child sex slaves.
"Our philosophy is if you're not out and looking around and present, you're never gong to catch anybody," Reyes said.
Human trafficking increases around major sporting events, concerts and festivals because the demand goes up, some of which appears on websites advertising "specials" around those activities, Reyes said. The attorney general investigators next year will look more closely at those websites.
"You have a lot of foreign visitors with a lot of money, and all it takes is a few of those to be interested in illicit sex with children and you've got the presence of human trafficking," he said.
Undercover agents also attend film screenings that authorities believe might have potential for some type of disturbance, including terrorism.
"The (attorney general's) office has always been very proactive in counterterrorism and looking at issues that aren't what most of us see like human trafficking and some of those things," said Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter.
Law enforcement, he said, wants to get ahead of any potential incidents and crime.
"Typically, it's people that recognize that there's a large gathering or crowd, and they look for an opportunity to make money," Carpenter said. "Our goal is protect anyone who might fall victim to that."
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