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Airial Johnson, 31, of the block of North 21st Street in Fort Pierce, and Curtis Travis, of North Charleston in South Carolina, were arrested Wednesday on warrants related to charges of human trafficking and conspiracy to commit human trafficking, according to police reports. Travis also was charged with trafficking heroin after officers found more than 4 grams on him, as well as cash.

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The investigation into the ring started in May after detectives got an anonymous tip about drug dealing, Guadagno said. A confidential informant told detectives about Johnson dealing drugs, specifically heroin, and working with prostitutes. Guadagno and detectives in the police Crime Suppression Unit spent the next seven months investigating Johnson and building a case against him.

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During the investigation, Guadagno learned Johnson was the ringleader while Travis was second-in-command. The two men said they were cousins and knew each other for 21 years, Guadagno said. The prostitution ring had been going on for at least two years — ever since Johnson moved his wife and children from South Carolina to the area, Guadagno said.

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Now they owe him money. Some women already were addicted to heroin or other drugs, but a lot of them never tried heroin before Johnson gave it to them, Guadagno said. Johnson purposely used a highly addictive drug to make the women indebted to him, and their debts grew daily, Guadagno said.

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In seven months, Guadagno said, detectives arrested 19 women who were working for Johnson. Detectives declined to release their names for safety reasons.

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All the women were from the Treasure Coast, and most were from St. Lucie County, Guadagno said. They were between ages 20 and Johnson supplied the women with fast food and condoms, but would make them pay for drugs and hotel rooms, Guadagno said.

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They told detectives the reason they now do heroin is to keep from getting sick. A few of the women who were arrested are clean now, Guadagno said, but most went back to their old habits.

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Although the goal of the investigation was to catch Johnson and Travis, detectives also wanted to help the women involved in the prostitution ring. Johnson was arrested in September by St. Lucie County Jail ever since because of a Louisiana warrant for a human trafficking charge, Guadagno said. He was scheduled to have a bond hearing at a.

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Wednesday at the St. Lucie County Courthouse and thought he would be able to get out of jail, Guadagno said. However, just 15 minutes before the hearing, Guadagno dropped off the warrant for Johnson on local human trafficking charges. Both Travis and Johnson were arrested later Wednesday morning.

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Neither spoke to detectives. Anyone who may have been a victim of Johnson or Travis should call Detective Chris Guadagno at Facebook Twitter. Human, sex trafficking ring found in Fort Pierce. Laurie K. Blandford laurie.

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