News 3 investigates human trafficking, child sexual trafficking in Hampton Roads

Posted at 11:31 AM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 12:20:35-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - A 42-year-old Portsmouth man has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl out of a Norfolk hotel, according to federal court documents. News 3 is now investigating what local agencies are doing to combat human trafficking in our area.

Thomas Hassell was arrested after an undercover sting operation at Norfolk's Marriott Waterside Hotel in January 2021.

According to court documents, on the night of the sting operation, an officer posing as a client met up with the girl inside the hotel. As police entered the hotel room, the girl received a call from Hassell saying the police were there; she then tried to destroy her phone to hide evidence of the trafficking.

The girl later told investigators that she met Hassell through another person for the purpose of commercial sex. Hassell would arrange "dates" for her by posting nude pictures of her online, then booking hotel rooms and sending the girl clients for sex. He then took half of her earnings from the "dates."

Related: $112,000 and more than 200 condoms: New info on arrests of 3 people for crimes related to human trafficking in Hampton Roads

Court documents say investigators found meth on the girl during the sting operation. She told investigators that Hassell would give her drugs.

Hotel records also said that between January 2, 2021 and January 18, 2021, Hassell booked hotel rooms with someone else's identity. When he was arrested, his Portsmouth home was searched and police found numerous transactions using stolen identities.

Hassell is now awaiting sentencing in the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. News 3 reached out to his attorney, who said he could not comment on the case at this time.

Records reveal that the prosecutors and his defense are asking the judge to give him a 120-month sentence.

The Virginia Beach Police say from January 2022 through May 2022, several law enforcement agencies worked together to conduct an anti-human trafficking operation. They executed search warrants on four massage parlors and at three homes in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Williamsburg.

Police said as a result three people were arrested, including 33-year-old Yang Gao of Norfolk, 32-year-old Ye Wang of Virginia Beach and 35-year-old Si Liu from Norfolk. They are facing several charges including sex trafficking and receiving money from a prostitute.

"The Virginia Beach Police Department remains steadfast in its commitment to anti-human trafficking operations and supporting the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force," the department said in a statement.

For the National Human Trafficking Hotline, click here.

Hotline Number: 1-888-373-7888