LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County prosecutors nearly tripled the number of human trafficking charges filed last year as they target gangs that are increasingly prostituting young girls to make money, the district attorney announced Tuesday.

Taking advantage of new laws that carry stiffer penalties and make prosecution easier, District Attorney Jackie Lacey established a human trafficking unit in her office to focus on what she said was the fastest-growing trend among gangs in the county.

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“These people who operate human trafficking rings, they’re sinister, they’re vile, they brand these children and women, they beat them, they drug them, they do everything possible in order to control them and their minds,” Lacey said at a news conference to observe Human Trafficking Awareness Month. “And then they abuse them and allow others to abuse them repeatedly.”

Prosecutors filed 75 human trafficking charges last year, compared with 28 in 2013, Lacey said. Her office also trained more than 400 police officers to better investigate human trafficking cases and worked to help the prostitutes get off the street.

Gangs got into the prostitution business when they realized it was an easy way to make money and the penalties were small, said Deputy District Attorney Jane Creighton, who leads the sex trafficking unit.

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However, the passage of Proposition 35 more than doubled sentences for human trafficking and imposed life sentences for sex-trafficking of children.

Lacey highlighted the case against members of a multimillion-dollar prostitution ring called the “Compton Division” that branded the girls with tattoos of the gang’s name. A photo at the news conference showed a bold black tattoo that ran from the knee to the ankle of one girl.

One gang member faces up to life in prison when sentenced later this week for human trafficking of a minor. Two others were sentenced to 12 and seven years for their roles in sex trafficking.

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