Is Your Teen for Sale Online?

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Minerva Shelton: FBI Special Agent

When Special Agent Minerva Shelton transferred from Sacramento's gangs unit to its crimes-against-children squad almost two years ago, she noticed a troubling rise in teens advertised online. To target the girls' Internet pimps, she set up a task force that works with police. Once a girl agrees to provide an undercover agent with sex for a fee, the team detains her and goes to work with a kind but firm interrogation aimed at finding help for the girl and building a case against the pimp.

Shelton, 39, and her team have rescued more than a dozen girls from prostitution in the past year alone. The daughter of farm workers from Mexico, she worked her way through the University of New Mexico and earned degree in criminal justice in 1992. She then joined the Army as a specialist in military intelligence and, in 1997, began a five year stint as a police officer in El Paso, Texas. In 2002 she joined the FBI.

"I wanted to keep giving back to the country that's given me so much," says Shelton, who's married to a police officer and has two children, ages 16 and 4. "I'm living the American dream."

But Shelton's work at the FBI has also exposed her to a nightmare. She recalls one teen who had been beaten for withholding $1 of her earnings. "She wanted an ice cream," explains Shelton. "I really want to get the violent people who exploit these juveniles."

Shelton often urges local police departments to involve her FBI unit in busting pimps, because convictions stemming from a federal investigation can result in longer sentences than those obtained under some state laws. In certain cases -- such as when a child involved is under 14 -- a federal conviction can result in life imprisonment.

Shelton rejoices when she can reunite a youngster with loving relatives or place her with a caring foster family. "My heart goes out to these girls," Shelton says. "Every time I get through to one of them, I consider it a success. I am certain that they can turn their lives around."

Continued on page 3:  Sergeant Detective Kelley O'Connell


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