SALT LAKE CITY — A man accused of masterminding a drug and human trafficking ring involving teenage boys has been arrested by a collaboration of federal, state and local agencies.
Victor Manuel Rax, 42, of Guatamala, was arrested Tuesday and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of human trafficking, distributing a counterfeit substance, child endangerment and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
It was hard for several investigators to hide their satisfaction Wednesday that Rax was in custody.
"Finally, a man is in prison who imprisoned many people — metaphorically — before," Ken Wallentine, chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said during a press conference at the Salt Lake County Jail.
Investigators believe Rax sexually abused young boys, mainly undocumented Latinos, and then used fear to force them into sex and drug trafficking.
"He was involved in trafficking teen boys for sexual purposes. Some of these teen boys he would then turn into drug mules for him, selling drugs in their schools, high schools, junior high schools. And he had a twin threat over them. He had twist locks on both of their arms," Wallentine said.
After sexually abusing the boys, Rax would force his will by telling them he now "owned" them, he said.
"'And secondly, I own your families. You don't cooperate with me, then I go to federal authorities,'" Rax would tell his victims, according to Wallentine. "So traffickers continue to get away with despicable, inhumane, evil crimes, and Rax was exploiting this."
Rax had been on the radar of Utah investigators for several months. But, for the past three weeks, they were monitoring Rax's steps very closely.
"We pretty much at that point knew all his movements, who he was associating with, how he was conducting his criminal activity," said Leo Lucey, chief of the attorney general's investigations division.
On Tuesday, the attorney general's SECURE Strike Force along with West Jordan police, the Utah Department of Corrections and the Utah Highway Patrol waited for the right opportunity to make their move.
They pulled Rax over near 4100 South and 900 West. Inside his vehicle was a teen boy believed to be one of his victims, Lucey said. With seven search warrants in hand, Rax was taken into custody.
"The crimes he was committing were intertwined. Part of his influence was the narcotics, both in providing them and insisting (the boys) sell them," Lucey said.
Wallentine said Rax was dealing in "fairly decent quantities" of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. Over the past two weeks, undercover agents made numerous drug buys, according to a Salt Lake County Jail report.
A large quantity of marijuana and meth was seized at a house at 1494 W. 700 South, according to the report. It is one of several residents Rax has throughout Salt Lake County.
Three teens, now ages 15, 17 and 18, reported being sexually abused by Rax. The 18-year-old told them Rax started abusing him when he was 16.
Rax supplied the teens with drugs both for their own use and to sell, and he threatened "bad things" would happen to their families if they told anyone about the abuse, the report states.
This is not the first time an agency has tried to bring human trafficking charges against Rax, Wallentine said without disclosing the department. He said in the past, Rax's intimidation continued into the courtroom.
Despite having a solid case, investigators said it fell apart when victims refused to testify.
"'Testify against him? No way. I'm not going to,'" Wallentine said, quoting prior victims who were even told they could be deported if they didn't cooperate. "'I don't care where you send me. You can deport me to hell for all I care. I'm not testifying against Victor Rax.'"
This time, however, Wallentine said prosecutors not only have a solid case, but victims who are willing to testify. What victims need to realize, he said, is that law enforcers aren't interested in prosecuting them.
"We're here to help everyone who is a victim trafficking," he said.
According to Lucey, investigators had identified seven potential victims, butheyt believe there is a good possibility there are more.
Wallentine declined to discuss Wednesday where the victims were originally from or how they ended up in Utah.
Rax was also being held by immigration officials. Rax has served prison time in Guatemala and been deported from the U.S. seven times, according to KSTU.
If anyone else is a victim of Rax or knows someone who is, they are asked to call the attorney general's tip line at 801-281-1203.
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