A church pastor was one of six people detained by police in Trinidad & Tobago this week, following the discovery of 69 people, ranging from the ages of 19 to 70 years, were found locked in cages at a church in Arouca on Wednesday morning.
The Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith described it as a case of “virtual modern day slavery”, in what was described as a “barbaric” scene, where 65 men and four women, who all appeared “to have been tortured” were being held in captivity.
Police say they are believed to be victims of both “modern day slavery” and “human trafficking”.
Mr Griffith told the Guardian outside the Transformed Life Ministry Rehabilitation Centre that the sting operation he coordinated was executed around 11pm on Tuesday by the Special Operation Response Team (SORT).
“We have now cracked what is the biggest situations pertaining to human trafficking in this country,” said Mr Griffith.
Some reports say “some families would take their drug addicted or mentally challenged relatives to the facility for help”.
At the end of the treatment period, the managers would often advise that the addicts be kept for an additional period, at an additional cost.
“The ‘captives’ were not allowed to leave the location and security guards on duty were not allowed to take cell phones beyond the walls. One security guard was fired when he raised issue with the treatment of the caged individuals.
“Taser guns and batons were seized at the property.”
Each case would be thoroughly investigated as “it appeared that some family members were deliberately sending their loved ones to gain profit”.
“The people found at the facility would also undergo thorough medical examinations as some claimed to have been there for years,” he added.
In a police statement issued at 5:39am on Thursday, a medical unit with doctors, nurses and ambulance attendants assisted by “conducting initial on-scene examinations of the rescued nationals”.
“Reports were given to senior officers months ago about possible imprisonment of persons.”
The Commissioner added: “It is such a bigger picture with profit being made out of this…family members deliberately sending their loved ones here and extracting the profits from the families..
“Persons are seen in cages, handcuffed…persons were being tortured. We saw tasers and batons…and again this is a situation of virtual modern day slavery.”
The Guardian media was “told that family members pay from $5,000 and more for their loved ones to be in the centre.”
Mr Griffith said he was told by senior police officers that reports were made about the organisation a few months ago when it was alleged that they were aware of false imprisonment.
He added that he was appalled that they did not do a thorough search where they would have seen persons being held in cages, some of them for years.
“And then being aware that they were in cages and nothing was being done…so this matter has gone a bit further where it is actually expanding into a possible investigation taking place with police officers.”
Meanwhile, investigations are continuing.