Heather Adams press conference 101420 (copy)

Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is creating its first human trafficking section to focus on the problem, which officials say affects nearly every community in the state.

“Human trafficking takes many forms, often exploiting the vulnerabilities of people in need, leaving them with lasting devastation and trauma,” Attorney General Michelle Henry said Thursday in announcing the task force.

While the office’s staff has prosecuted trafficking cases before, the new section will focus solely on trafficking and continue to work with federal, state and local partners.

Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams welcomed the news. She created a county task force two years ago.

“It is incredibly useful to have both federal and state partners that are committed to investigating and prosecuting these offenders. The (attorney general’s) task force would be an additional resource for our current task force,” Adams said.

In 2023, Lancaster’s task force arrested 49 people in six sting operations, up from 30 arrests its first year.

The county task force focuses almost exclusively on men who buy sex, and people seeking sex from minors.

“Our task force has been focusing on reducing the demand for these services since its inception,” Adams said.

In one notable case, the task force secured a 2½- to 6-year prison sentence in October for an Ephrata man who tried to have sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Zakianny Maldonado, 32, pleaded guilty in June to patronizing a victim of human trafficking and related charges. 

According to prosecutors, Maldonado responded to an online ad and began communicating with a detective posing as the girl’s family member. He agreed to meet at a motel and pay $200 for 30 minutes. Instead, when he showed up last January with the $200, he was arrested.

Maldonado was one of eight child predator arrests last year; cases of the other seven are still pending. Thirty-six people were arrested for soliciting prostitutes and five people were arrested for offering prostitution.

In six cases, people who had been arrested, mostly for prostitution, were offered services to help them instead of prosecution. Such situations typically involve people later found to be trafficking victims.

Those arrested ranged in age from 25 to 62 years old and came largely from Lancaster and surrounding counties.

The task force partners with Zoe International, an international nonprofit that combats child sex trafficking and provides trained advocates who can help victims. The task force also offers community outreach on human trafficking.

YWCA Lancaster runs a 24-hour sexual assault hotline that connects callers to free, confidential counseling and therapy services for community members impacted by sexual abuse, harassment or assault. Call 717-392-7273.

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