FOX 5 Investigates: Dangerous world of sex trafficking

They are hidden in plain sight: establishments that say they are one thing, but operate as another. They are illegal operations that harbor potential sex traffickers, and yet the fight to shut them down continues. FOX 5's Marina Marraco went looking for answers as to why these places are still open for business.

From the outside, they are ordinary buildings. Although there are no signs in sight, one in an industrial park in unincorporated Prince George's County is actually licensed as South Carolina Cafe, a banquet hall with a $20 entrance fee and no menu to order from.

And tucked in an industrial park in Hyattsville, Club Fuego is licensed as a banquet hall and auditorium.

But once the sun sets, the unassuming banquet halls turn into something different.

Our FOX 5 crew saw full-on nude dancing and illicit activities inside Club Fuego as well as in South Carolina Cafe -- or Irving's, as it is known on the streets.

"When we were leaving there, I thought that it was also interesting that some man walked up to me in the hallway and immediately knew to come to me and starts asking me if I was looking for a job," said Tina Frundt.

She is a survivor. Her body once belonged to the many "johns" of the night and was sold for sex.

"I really think that word is sex trafficking is a confusing word," she said. "Where people get it confused because it is a governmental and legal term. The real terminology used is forced prostitution."

Frundt often hears the survivor stories of young women who are forced to work in clubs and sold for sex.

(WEB EXTRA: Tina Frundt shares more about her story and what the mindset is of the people who live in this lifestyle)

It has become such a problem in Prince George's County that in 2013, the county formed a Human Trafficking Task Force.

FOX 5's Marina Marraco shared what we saw with Councilwoman Karen Toles, "We went in there and we basically saw prostitution happening in the open and there were dozens of people in these establishments," Marraco told her.

Toles responded, "In those particular places, we didn't look at them for human trafficking, so that's a different situation."

Toles is a Prince George's County council member, and she introduced legislation to establish the task force and is its vice-chair. She says her task force has focused on motels and massage parlors.

Our FOX 5 investigative team went inside Irving's and Club Fuego with a team from Courtney's House. We witnessed countless illegal activities, including fully nude dancers, women who appeared to be underage and working in the back rooms of the establishments. One of them we found naked and passed out, surrounded by men.

Another woman we spoke with told us she had just moved to Maryland from Mexico two days before and was already working inside. And despite there being a county loophole allowing late-night clubs to have partially nude dancers if alcohol isn't served, we were able to purchase hard liquor from Irving's.

Toles told Marraco, "I'm going to go on record to say that as far as I know and the information I have received, I do not know that those things are occurring within those establishments."

But a Prince George's County resident and neighbor of the club said, "There isn't a councilperson that doesn't know about this place."

Camelia Styles has lived in this unincorporated part of Prince George's County for decades. Her house is just a few doors down from Irving's.

"We would come out early in the morning and we would see condoms all up and down the block," she said. "You could come out early in the morning and actually find activities going on in the car."

"Activities such as sex?" we asked her.

"Sex, yes," she said.

For years, it has been Styles' duty to rally up her neighbors and petition the county to shut this place down.

"I have personally called Karen Toles' office and asked if they would be at the hearings in respect to Irving's," Styles said. "They said that they were aware and that they were looking in to see what they could do. Whether or not she knows that there's a problem, she can check the records, she can check the police records."

Frundt says the police records and the survivors tell the real story.

After she escaped the life, she founded Courtney's House, an organization that offers a way out of exploitation.

She scours places like these searching for minors, many of whom have gone missing, and later tell of being forced into prostitution at places like Irving's and Fuego-- establishments disguised as one thing that operate as another.

Frundt says when she was inside Fuego, she was grabbed and "people pulled me to the side and grabbed me and asked me if I wanted to party, if there was somewhere we could go, they asked me if they could give me money for things and suggesting that they follow you. They go in the back and give you money for having sex with you."

In the last year, police have responded to Club Fuego 63 times and 24 times to Irving's. Irving's has also been the scene of four different homicide investigations,  the most recent in 2012 -- when one of the dancers was shot and killed.

We repeatedly asked Toles for answers as to why places like these continue to operate despite the continuous violations of the law and their underground operations.

"Yeah, I could not speak to that because I do not know what was going on in there. Again, we dealt with the human trafficking aspect of it," Toles responded.

We attempted to speak with the manager at Club Fuego, but before we could get to the door, a man standing by shut it.

At Irving's, despite our multiple phone calls to its owner and attempts at a response, our questions went unanswered.

After our findings, we pressed Councilwoman Toles and her task force on whether they would focus on these establishments. Her response?

"Let me stop you and say I don't know if they were doing sex trafficking because as far as I know, those particular establishments that you named, they were not under what the impetus of some of the policies that we did. That's different than what we study with the task force."

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