149 Children Recovered in Nationwide Child Sex Trafficking Sting

FBI Director James Comey: "Our mission is to protect the American people—especially our children—from harm." REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, recovered 149 sexually exploited children and arrested more than 150 pimps and other individuals last week, the bureau said Tuesday.

The sting—dubbed Operation Cross Country—was the ninth and "largest" nationwide law enforcement action conducted by the FBI to combat child sex trafficking, the bureau said. The number of children recovered, 149, was down slightly from last year's tally, 168.

"Our mission is to protect the American people—especially our children—from harm," said FBI Director James Comey in a statement. "When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror. We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country."

The FBI conducted the sting in 135 cities across 53 FBI field offices, the bureau said. More than 500 law enforcement officers participated. The sting targeted hotels, casinos, truck stops and "other areas frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers," the bureau said in its statement.

"Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. "As a result of the FBI's outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system."

As of press time, individual FBI field offices had released the names of 12 of those arrested.