No evidence of sex trafficking, abuse at Texas facility, says DPS

The Texas Rangers have found no evidence that residents of a Bastrop County shelter were ever sexually abused or trafficked while at the shelter, says the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The Refuge for DMST, a shelter contracted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has been under investigation by the Texas Rangers after allegations surfaced of possible exploitation and abuse of some of the residents.

According to a letter addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, DPS director Steven McCraw says a team of Texas Rangers conducted interviews with residents and employees of the Refuge as well as DFPS employees and reviewed investigative reports and internal DFPS files.

Brooke Crowder, founder and CEO of the Refuge for DMST, released a statement Wednesday concerning the letter and the investigation:

"We are deeply relieved by the Texas Rangers' findings reported in today's letter from the Department of Public Safety to Governor Abbott. We are grateful to state leaders for maintaining an intense focus on the issues related to interdicting sex trafficking and supporting us in our efforts to protect and rehabilitate the victims that enter our care. We are committed to continued close cooperation with DPS, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services and the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office as they pursue justice for the girls involved in the cited incidents."

McCraw's letter cites two incidents of employee misconduct at the shelter:

On Jan. 24, a resident reported some of her items stolen which led to a report of an employee allegedly selling nude pictures of her and another resident and using the proceeds to buy alcohol and drugs for the minors. 

The letter states the Refuge fired the employee and reported the incident to DFPS and the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office (BCSO), which is still conducting a criminal investigation into the former employee. No arrests have been made. 

The second incident on Feb. 20 involves two girls who ran away from the property and some staff members who allegedly helped them do it. Both girls were located safely afterward and according to the letter, four employees were fired.

BCSO is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the former employees and one has been arrested for making a false statement to the FBI, says McCraw. However, he says there were no allegations or evidence the residents were sexually abused or assaulted by anyone.

Operations at the Refuge had been put on hold while the investigation was underway and all the girls had been removed from the facility and were in Texas Department of Family and Protective Services care. It is unknown at this time if the girls will be returned to the Refuge's care.

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