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Interstate stop leads to human trafficking arrest

By Hal Scheurich

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    BALDWIN COUNTY, Alabama (WALA) — A man and woman from California are under arrest in Baldwin County, charged with human trafficking. Deputies pulled over their vehicle on I-10 near the Florida line and made the disturbing discovery of an 18-year-old girl, beaten and scared. Investigators believe she was forced into prostitution.

Twenty-two-year-old Breanna Marie Chanthanam and 20-year-old Benjamin Markus Sapp have been charged with human trafficking and possession of marijuana. Both suspects are from Sacramento, California but investigators said they’d been in the Houston area for some time before heading east.

“This is not something that we see daily. It’s a unique case. It’s an important case,” said Capt. Andre Reid with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. “We have a human victim riding with the people that are exploiting her and she’s young on top of that and so, it’s important that we were able to intercept them and get her the services that she needs.”

The Honda Accord they were driving was pulled over on I-10 eastbound for a lane violation Wednesday, January 25, 2023. It was during the roadside investigation, deputies smelled marijuana and searched the car, finding pot and $15,000 in cash. Investigators said it was also determined the victim had been sex trafficked by the couple multiple times while on the road.

The 18-year-old victim had several injuries, including bruising and cuts to her face and a broken collar bone. Sheriff’s investigators said this stop on the interstate may help shed light on a much bigger human trafficking ring.

“It’s very possible, you know that they’re working with other people. We do know that they were headed to Florida to go meet with some people, so those are the things we’ll be working on in the coming days and working with our federal partners to see if we can uncover more information,” Reid explained.

Homeland Security is one of those agencies which responded immediately. The victim has already been relocated and is being treated for her injuries and receiving counseling.

The Baldwin County Child Advocacy Center partners with federal and local authorities in such cases to help victims along the road to recovery. Executive Director, Viki Whitaker said it’s important to begin working with victims right away.

“It’s always different. That’s why fortunately, we do have specially trained therapists who start where the victim is, and they work on the trauma from where they’re at to the point of healing.”

Law enforcement wants to remind everyone how important it is to say something if you suspect a case of human trafficking. Time is critical, so report it to your nearest law enforcement agency or to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Both Breanna Chanthanam and Benjamin Sapp are being held in the Baldwin County Jail on no bond.

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