U.S. Attorney Peter McCoy Jr. announced their arrests on Thursday. Gary Garland, Shannon Garland, Johnnie Wells, Michael Skelton, and Duwone Allen, who are all from Anderson, now face federal charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and production of child pornography.
The case involved two minor victims, McCoy’s office said. Two of the suspects are a husband and wife.
“Child sex trafficking is one of the most offensive and reprehensible crimes possible,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy in a Department of Justice (DOJ) release. “Sadly, many of the victims and offenders are hidden in plain sight. With support from our federal, state, and local partners, this office will find those who engage in all forms of human trafficking and bring them to justice. This includes those who patronize these victims. We will also continue to work with support groups here in our community to ensure these victims receive the services they need.”
According to the DOJ, the trafficking and other violations against the five defendants started in 2019 in South Carolina. Officials said the defendants would advertise and transport two minors in the case.
Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride told WSPA-TV that the investigation began in the spring.
“Somebody took notice of one of the children involved in the case, and there was some things about the child that they picked up on,” he said. “That’s kind of how conversations started.”
Gary Garland is facing more than two dozen charges including sexual exploitation of a minor, criminal sexual conduct with a minor, trafficking a victim under 18 years of age, dissemination of obscene materials, and giving drugs to a minor, said officials. “The people involved in this case are just sick and demented,” McBride said.
“Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and these cases are a top priority for HSI investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Charlotte Ronnie Martinez in the release. “HSI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to find and prosecute criminal traffickers while ensuring the victims of these terrible crimes are rescued and get the care they need.”
“These are heinous allegations, and this case would not have been possible without the coordinated efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement departments,” added U.S. Marshal Thomas M. Griffin Jr. “Any crime against a child is horrific and the United States Marshals Service will utilize any and all available resources so we can bring these offenders to justice.”