State officials told a federal judge on Thursday that employees of a foster care center under a contract with the state to house child victims of sex trafficking had themselves trafficked these children.
The matter arose in an emergency hearing before U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack, who presided over a 2011 class action lawsuit against the state Department of Family and Protective Services that alleged children were being held in dangerous conditions, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported.
The allegations related to a facility in Bastrop called The Refuge, which housed 11 children between the ages of 11 and 17. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an immediate investigation into the Texas Rangers reports.
State officials said a staff member reported in late January that a former employee had sold nude photos of two young girls and used the money to buy them illegal drugs and alcohol. Further investigation revealed that several staff members still employed at the Refuge were involved in the criminal activity.
There are seven alleged victims and nine alleged perpetrators, state officials said. A staff member has been arrested and further criminal charges are pending, officials said. The children were finally removed from the facility on Wednesday, a month and a half after the first report, state officials said.
“The most appalling thing about it is the disregard for these kids,” Jack said. “You had to wait for eight calls to get 11 already trafficked girls out of this trafficking situation. It is a system that remains broken.
Department Commissioner Jaime Masters said she was not made aware of the situation until Wednesday.
“There’s no excuse for why I didn’t know, which is why a lot of people are losing their jobs,” Masters said.
In a statement, The Refuge said it is “fully cooperating with authorities and we hope the alleged perpetrator will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and we will assist the Bastrop County Sheriff and District Attorney’s Office in their pursuits.
“Our hearts are broken and we are outraged by the actions of former employees whose intent was to harm, not help,” said Founder and CEO Brooke Crowder.