New investigations into possible human trafficking stem from recent Giles County case

Assistant commonwealth attorney says department is looking into other reports

GILES COUNTY, Va. – As one local human trafficking case comes to a close, investigators in Giles County are looking into new leads of others who may have been trafficked in the area by other local predators.
Gary Gusler, 55, of Newport, signed a plea agreement Wednesday in Giles County Circuit Court, admitting to human trafficking and abduction charges.
Gusler was sentenced to 30 years behind bars, but all but but six years and 12 months were waived, meaning Gusler will only serve a 7-year sentence, including time already served.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Debra K. Sifford said Gusler had been trafficking local women for at least 15 years. In that time, 24 women have been identified as victims. Many of them came in contact with the public, but no one realized what was going on or tried to help until now.

It wasn't until a Giles County deputy overheard Gusler's phone calls with an inmate at the New River Valley Regional Jail that the investigation was brought to light.

"He came to me and said, 'This doesn't sound right,'” Sifford said. “He said, 'I don't know what it is, but it doesn't sound right.'"

According to details released in court, in an attempt to blackmail one of the victims, Gusler reported her for stealing, after she refused to have sex. That accusation led to more details about the case, as well as more victims, being revealed.

Sifford said the victims reported the issue to probation officers or other police officers, but because of their criminal records involving drugs or prostitution, they were not believed.

Once Gusler was behind bars, Sifford said, her office was overwhelmed with women who came forward.

"Once he was arrested, we started getting calls from victims. We weren't looking for them. They started calling us. We had women who came on their own from as far as three-hour drives away to interview with us,” Sifford said.

Keith Farmer, the director of Straight Street and its branch, Street Ransom, an organization for human trafficking victims in Roanoke -- said he wasn’t surprised that a case was found here in the region.

"It's sad that it happens so close to home, but it's not a surprise that it happens,” Farmer said.

Farmer said the belief that human trafficking involves people being captured from another country and brought into the United States is a false stereotype. In reality, he said, 80 percent of these cases are domestic, involving local people.

“And so that's the majority and often it flies right under the radar. People may think it looks a little bit odd, but they don't realize if they should do something or say something, but they should,” Farmer said.

The tactic Gusler used, bonding vulnerable women out of jail in exchange for sex and labor, isn't uncommon.

"The tactic is just one of many. Perpetrators, traffickers, will find out what is someone's vulnerability and they will prey on those," Farmer said.

For more information about signs to look to determine if human trafficking is occurring, visit the Street Ransom website.

About the Author: