LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky's attorney general is urging people to pay attention to more than horses and parties during the springtime celebrations leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
Warning of the unsavory side of Derby season, authorities are asking for the public's help in cracking down on sex traffickers trying to cash in on the crowds expected for the world's most famous horse race.
"This is our Derby, which is supposed to be a celebration," Attorney General Andy Beshear said Thursday. "And we should not allow criminals to mar it, especially through a crime that so victimizes our children and other vulnerable individuals. So be our eyes and ears."
More than 160,000 fans are expected to pack into Churchill Downs for the May 6 race, capping two weeks of festivities across Louisville that kick off Saturday night with a huge fireworks show.
Last Derby season, Beshear's office worked with local law enforcement in trying to root out trafficking operations. He said that effort led to multiple arrests and the rescue of a 14-year-old girl.
Authorities can point to other successes in their efforts.
A Kalamazoo, Michigan, man ensnared in a prostitution sting operation during a prior Derby season was sentenced recently to nearly 20 years in prison. David Q. Givhan was convicted of one count of sex trafficking and three counts of interstate transportation for prostitution.
Givhan twice brought a woman to Louisville to perform commercial sex acts in the days leading up to the 2015 Derby because "they had made a lot of money," court documents said.
Last year, Louisville metro police reported making 233 arrests for prostitution-related offenses, with 65 of them - or more than a fourth - occurring from April through Derby weekend. Forty-four of the arrests occurred in the first week of May.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agents plan another round of intensified efforts this Derby season to combat sex trafficking, U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. said
"Forcible sex trafficking is effectively a form of modern day slavery, and those responsible will face lengthy prison sentences if they operate here," he said in a statement.
Louisville Metro Police Lt. Chuck Mann said the strategy to combat trafficking includes undercover operations.
"Most of our proactive efforts are focused around events such as the Kentucky Derby, which bring many visitors from outside the Louisville metro area," he said in a statement.
Amy Nace-DeGonda, a Catholic Charities case manager in Louisville who works with human trafficking victims, said she worries that for every arrest, many other traffickers go undetected.
"What I always say is anytime you see any stats, you should probably just multiple it several times because it's happening more than we're even aware," she said after Beshear's event.
Asked for the reasons behind the surge in sex trafficking during Derby season, she said: "More people, less inhibition, more money coming in."
Beshear's office was hosting a three-day training session this week for law enforcement, prosecutors and others to combat human trafficking.
He offered some common clues that can give away trafficking victims: signs of malnourishment or injuries, a lack of identification, inability to identify what state or community a person is in, avoidance of eye contact and scripted responses in social interactions.