LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department launched a new partnership to crack down on those soliciting sex online.
Tom Perez runs a group called EPIK, which stands for Every Man Protecting Innocent Kids. His group of volunteers across a dozen U.S. cities helps law enforcement fish out customers involved in the sex trade business.
"The smartphone in your pocket or in your hand right now is the brothel of the 21st Century," he said.
On Thursday, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Regional Human Trafficking Task Force announced it's partnered with EPIK and other law enforcement and civic groups to go after the sex trades' customers.
The group claims there's plenty of customers out there.
"We placed one ad for a cyber hotel operation and within an hour, one of our investigators off that one ad had over 1,100 text messages back and forth from different respondents," said LASD Capt. Chris Marks.
Over the past two years, the sheriff's department has arrested over 250 male sex buyers and arrested more than 140 for internet crimes against children.
It is using public service announcements on social media to discourage potential customers from soliciting sex online or by text.
"Our outreach to educate sex buyers will be a wakeup call for them when they realize they are not texting a 15-year-old girl but a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department employee," said LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said once customers are arrested, they can face a variety of jail and prison sentences.
"If they are caught and prosecuted, they are facing jail time, potentially state prison time, because if the girls are under age, under a certain age, that's a state prison sentence in our opinion," she said.
The human trafficking task force said in two years, it's rescued more than 200 girls from the sex trade and human trafficking.