I-Team: Is local woman helping warn against trafficking dangers or inducing panic?

There are human traffickers in the Tri-State trying to snatch people in public shopping areas to sell them for sex or to harvest their organs, according to the head of a local nonprofit.

Are these allegations true, or is the woman behind them simply inciting fear?

During a month-long investigation, the 9 On Your Side I-Team talked to the head of Urban Success Mentoring, who calls her nonprofit nontraditional. Others in anti-human trafficking work told the I-Team that it is dangerous, both because of what she is saying and what she claims she and her team are doing.

"It's dangerous work," Paulette said.

The Milford woman said the danger she faces is why she gives only her first name.

Below is YouTube video of Paulette speaking to Goshen High School students in February along with her former director of domestic abuse, Tiffany. Tiffany told WCPO Monday she is no longer with the organization "due to disagreements."

 

"Thank you for having us," Paulette said in the video. "Um, I'm Paulette, the founder and director of Urban Success Mentoring. We work with victims of domestic violence."

Paulette told the students her nonprofit rescues victims from domestic abuse and human trafficking "either for commercial sex purposes or organ harvesting. That's very popular here."

The I-Team questioned Paulette about her statements.

I-Team: "Organ harvesting is popular here?"

Paulette: "In the U.S."

I-Team: "Not in the Tri-State area?"

Paulette: "Not necessarily, no."

I-Team: "Do you know of any instances where there's been an attempted organ harvesting or successful organ harvesting in the Tri-State?"

Paulette: "Actually here? Um…no, not off the top of my head where it's actually been done here."

That's one of many claims the I-Team sat down with Paulette to clarify about the work of Urban Success Mentoring.

Urban Success Mentoring was registered as an Ohio nonprofit in June of 2016, but Paulette would not disclose the names of her team or even her board members.

Paulette: "Is there a reason you want all that?

I-Team: "I'm curious why you don't want to tell me because it's a nonprofit."

Paulette: "Right. But our work is very sensitive."

Paulette told the Goshen students her work "has to be very secretive. It has to be protected."

She told the students that many of her "team members" are former gang members who go into volatile situations.

"We know that the police get tired of doing the same thing over and over again, going to the same calls. That's why we don't … we don't play about this," Paulette told the Goshen students. "We had a teammate almost killed protecting someone because we're a pretty aggressive team street outreach team, so we will go in and remove people if need be. If they're not able to leave their homes, we will help them leave."

The I-Team showed some of the video to Clermont County Sheriff Steve Leahy and Assistant Prosecutor Scott O'Reilly.

I-Team: "Do you agree that what she does is dangerous?"

Leahy: "That's probably about the most truthful thing that she said."

O'Reilly: "If that's in fact going on, it's extraordinarily dangerous."

O'Reilly is the county's point person on human trafficking, and he said he had not heard of Paulette or her group.

"That is direct misinformation to children in this community and the last thing we should be doing is striking fear into citizens about things that just aren't taking place," O'Reilly said.

In fact, law enforcement in Warren and Hamilton counties tell the I-Team they only became aware of Paulette and her group after she posted on Facebook this March 7 "PSA from those of us in the human trafficking field" urging people to "be cautious in the Mason, Symmes Township and Montgomery areas" where she states "the Russian mafia is very active."

I-Team "You know the Russian mafia is here?"

Paulette: "We know. Yeah."

The post, mentioning other Tri-State communities as well, was shared thousands of times, spurring rumors that people were being approached "in random shopping places" by traffickers.

The fear inspired mothers in Symmes Township to invite Paulette to a neighborhood meeting, which the I-Team attended, at which Paulette said she was doing a rescue that very night.

"We're taking like nine people," Paulette said. "He's extremely dangerous. He's got a house full of gang members and pit bulls. Um, we're going with a lot of people."

The concerns that Paulette's post provoked led Cincinnati police to respond with their own Facebook post on March 13 stating "human trafficking exists!" but "there have been no police reports made in the city of Cincinnati that can be attributed to any of the statements of human trafficking made in the Facebook post."

The department stated it "has made several attempts to contact the person and organization publishing this message and have not heard back from them."

This YouTube video newly released by Urban Success Mentoring tells of its longtime work in Cincinnati.

"We began years ago in the inner city of Cincinnati as a gang intervention program," Paulette said on the video.

Cincinnati police confirmed to the I-Team they hadn't heard of the group until the March 7 post.

Blue Ash was also named in the post as a place where trafficking was "growing at the moment."

"It started a hysteria that wasn't necessary," Blue Ash Officer Beth Roach said.

Roach confirmed that Blue Ash police did meet with Paulette.

"We received concerns from citizens as did a lot of other departments in the Cincinnati area," Roach said.

Roach heads the human trafficking investigations for Blue Ash and said she's never had a case where a victim was randomly approached in a shopping area.

"All the victims I've dealt with have had vulnerabilities, whether that's drug addiction, a lack of immigration status, abusive background, throwaway kids, runaway kids. There's a high incidence in the LGBTQ community," Roach said.

And Roach said she has received no information from Paulette's group.

I-Team: "I just would like to have the name of an agency where you reported a human trafficking incident where someone was abducted."

Paulette: "Maybe off camera."

When one person on Facebook accused Paulette of trying "to induce panic" and questioned "why Paulette can't even use her real name on Facebook," Paulette responded by saying: "We are spinning the human trafficking industry on its side and pissing off some extremely dangerous people. Law enforcement works with us and trains us."

I-Team: "Which law enforcement agencies helped train Urban Success team members?"

Paulette: "The law enforcement agencies who really support what we do. Um, again, I just can't expose everything about my organization. I'm sorry."

Later Paulette told the I-Team this about her team's training: "We get together and we do our own training … because what we do is very unique and it's not textbook."

"We assist law enforcement because they get tired of it," she told the Goshen High students.

"To me, that just sends a terrible message to people," Leahy said when he watched the video.

Leahy said Paulette's team has never assisted his team. He said his deputies are vigilant in handling domestic violence calls, and he worries women in crisis will call the number on Paulette's website instead of 9-1-1.

"Absolutely. That (9-1-1) should be the first call," Leahy said.

"A lot of people don't want to call 9-1-1," Paulette said. "9-1-1 has probably been to that house 6 or 7 or 8 times and doesn't really want to go back there again."

Paulette calls her group an alternative.

I-Team: "Why do you go in to de-escalate and retrieve instead of the police?"

Paulette: "Because it's very dangerous for a law enforcement officer to show up in uniform. That escalates everything."

Paulette says in her YouTube video she's a domestic violence survivor who simply wants to help people.

"I know that I made it and I want everybody else to make it," she said.

"I really don't think there's anything wrong with what we do. We're not doing anything illegal.

"As long as God calls me and equips me to do it, I'm going to go."

The I-Team agreed not to use Paulette's last name because she has not been charged with any legal wrongdoing, but we have learned the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is investigating her nonprofit, which has done quite a bit of fundraising in the Cincinnati area.

Our I-Team report continues online Tuesday with more on Paulette's nonprofit and other claims Paulette has made that deeply concern social service agencies working in anti-human trafficking and domestic violence.

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