Dozens arrested in crime initiative focused on Wells Branch area

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Sheriff’s Office says over the past few weeks it has focused on the unincorporated areas of Wells Branch to cut back on various crimes.

The department says the initiative focused on credit card skimmers, illicit businesses and prostitution. In a press release, the department says “significant progress has been made.”

Captain Craig Smith says the initiative started Oct. 8 and runs through Nov. 17. In the past three weeks, authorities have made 47 arrests.

“This is already proven to be a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be,” Smith said. “And it’s still ongoing.”

One of the cases Smith highlighted was the undercover prostitution bust at the Green Leaf Massage parlor on Pecan Street in the Pflugerville area. Two massage workers were arrested and charged with prostitution after offering to perform sex acts on two undercover officers, according to arrest affidavits filed by the sheriff’s office.

Smith also says 17 men were arrested in a prostitution sting, where undercover deputies met them at a Wells Branch motel. According to Smith, three of those cases resulted in felony arrests, because the men were soliciting sex with minors.

As part of the initiative, TCSO and partnering police agencies are also cracking down on crimes such as burglary, robbery, assault and drug trafficking. Smith says the Wells Branch area is a hotspot for those types of crimes because of the area’s population density. With a high number of apartment structures, more people are in a concentrated area, which makes it easier for criminals to target a larger number of victims.

“The problems that we’re seeing are just that there’s more opportunity in that particular area,” Smith said. “So what we’re trying to do is arrest the right people, make sure that we’re targeting those that are creating the problem for us, and getting the word out, because it’s not just amongst ourselves. We know that the bad guys talk, and we want the word to get out that we’ve recognized this area as a place people go to commit these crimes, and we’re not going to tolerate it . We’re going to do what we have to do to be proactive to try to stop that.”

Finding credit card skimmers and those who install them at gas stations in the area has also been a big part of TCSO’s initiative. Smith says they’re such an issue in Travis County right now that he’s recommending nobody use a credit card at the gas pump anywhere in the county. Smith says the cases they’re coming across, the suspects tend to use the stolen credit card information to clone credit cards to use to purchase diesel fuel.

“I know it takes away from the convenience of pay-at-the-pump 100 percent, but right now, that’s the only way that we know that you can avoid — and be sure that you’re avoiding your credit card being skimmed,” Smith explains.

A town hall will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 28 for the people who live in the area. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Wells Branch Community Center at 2106 Klattenhoff Dr. Sheriff Sally Hernandez as well as other county officials will be on hand to discuss crime statistics and the overall focus in the area.

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