LAFAYETTE COUNTY, Mo. (WDAF/CNN) - A Missouri state trooper making a routine traffic stop looked into a car and knew something was off.
Troopers say Brenda Alcaraz exploited a teen to traffic $130,000 worth of meth across the country. It was strapped to the teen's ribs using bandages. (Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol)
Now, a woman is in custody, accused of forcing a teenager to be a drug mule.
Thousands of cars pass through Missouri on I-70 daily, but last week, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper pulled over a Jeep in Lafayette County that was out of the ordinary.
"There was some odor of marijuana, so there was some criminal activity occurring, but the trooper knew that there was a much, much bigger case involved,” said Sgt. Andrew Bell with Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Court records say the driver, 22-year-old Brenda Alcaraz of California, had a 15-year-old girl with her.
Investigators say there were several red flags: The teen had no ID and the pair had conflicting stories about how they knew each other.
"Come to find out, she had been exploited, if you will, to transport illegal methamphetamine from the West Coast to the East Coast,” Bell said.
For days, the girl was forced to wear bandages strapping 5.5 lbs of crystal meth to her rib cage.
It might not sound like a lot, but that amount of drugs is valued at roughly $130,000.
"She thinks she is going to gain something of value, money, for doing these services, which she has no idea what it could lead to - something extremely dangerous. She could potentially lose her life,” Bell said.
Missouri State Highway Patrol is in the middle of a ramped up campaign to fight human trafficking, which started in 2017.
This year alone, 200 troopers went through specialized training. The patrol's investigated 117 incidents, leading to 25 arrests and 17 victims recovered.
Sarah Zollner works with dozens of trafficking victims through an organization called Rended Heart in Kansas City, Missouri.
“There really is no socio-economic, geographic break down to this. We see it all over,” Zollner said.
She says many victims get lured in because they have family issues leaving them without the ability to understand healthy boundaries.
Rended Heart works to meet victims where they are.
“Where people are in that journey is always a little bit different, but our goal is just to build relationships with them and let them know there is another way to live life, and that that's possible,” Zollner said.
The 15-year-old is now back home with family in Oregon.
Alcaraz is facing felony drug and child endangerment charges, and police continue to look for any other drug trafficking connections she may have.
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