YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Those investigating human trafficking don’t mince words when talking about the problem. Major Jeff Allen with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office said it is a large and growing problem.

“The most profitable criminal enterprise in the world. It far exceeds drugs and guns,” he said.

The local human trafficking task force was established about six years ago and was one of the first in Northeast Ohio, utilizing resources from the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and a number of local police departments in the area.

“These victims out here need help and to go above and beyond what we can do as law enforcement. And forming the task force was the way to go,” Allen said.

Since its inception, the task force has conducted six stings, focusing on men looking to meet children for sex. Those are among the worst offenders, Allen said.

Agents find suspects through social media by posing as young children and then arresting the men when they arrive at designated locations.

“If we’re not doing it, they’re going to find an actual child,” Allen said.

Another priority is those involved with child pornography. Investigations against Mathew Lucarell and Jason Huffman of Youngstown were initiated locally but ultimately were convicted in federal court and are now serving long prison terms.

“They were actually producing in their households,” Allen said.

U.S. Attorney Margaret Kane said it’s something her agency views as very important to pursue, but prosecutors say it’s not something they can do on their own.

“The U.S. Attorney and law enforcement members can’t pursue human trafficking and those who engage in human trafficking without the help of the public,” Kane said.

Authorities urge those suspecting someone may be a victim of human trafficking to call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.