Feb 15, 2014 2:37 PM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham
TUCSON - Countless millions of dollars have changed hands during Tucson's gem and mineral shows. But, not all that money is being spent on glitter and gold. A lot is being spent on girls.
These traders are a small army of pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers who swarm Tucson each February.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators found that with 55-thousand visitors here for the gem and mineral shows, the underground business couldn't be better.
"The gem and mineral show in Tucson has been written up in national articles and books as a magnet for sex trafficking," says Jerry Peyton, with the group Sold No More. Groups like Peyton's work to help put an end to prostitution.
This time of year is especially active in Tucson as non-profits and authorities keep tabs on the sex trade. The activity is not just on the streets. The online marketplace has also become a popular destination for buyers and sellers in the skin trade.
Just like supply and demand drives business at the gem and mineral show, so too does it drive prostitutes to come to Tucson, and spend part of their February here filling some local motels and hotels.
"Every woman I've talked to here who is prostituted, every girl I've talked to. They laugh - oh yeah, gem and mineral show. That's when all the competition from out of town comes in," Peyton says.
It's not just prostitution that booms this time of year; drugs sales also lurk in the same shadows where prostitutes ply their trade.
"Criminals like opportunities. So, granted just by the virtue of the volume of people being here for the gem show, the opportunity for crime presents itself," says Captain Clay Kidd, who heads up the Tucson Police Department's Special Investigative Division.
Kidd tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, TPD has been making their presence known, letting gem show vendors, customers, and would-be criminals know they mean business.
"What we look for when we have a volume of people filling up the hotels and walking around, we're paying very close attention to that activity to ensure that we're trying to keep the community as safe as possible," Kidd says.
Kidd also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, it's not just the girls and women who are trafficked who are at risk for violence. Their customers also face the possibility of becoming a victim.
"It's kind of a given that if you're here for the gem show, you're probably going to have some cash with you. That makes you potentially a victim of a crime, especially if you're inviting people into your hotel room you know, for purposes of prostitution," Kidd says.
Gem and mineral shows wrap up this weekend, but authorities say the crack-down will continue.
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