NC officials search for 4 girls in possible human trafficking case

ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — Two people have been charged in connection with enrolling an ineligible high school athlete in Alamance County, N.C., authorities said.

Aris Lamont Hines, 37, and Brandi Kauilani Thomason, 35, have been charged with felony common law obstruction of justice and obtaining property by false pretense, Sheriff Terry Johnson said at a news conference Tuesday.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said Wednesday that they are looking for four girls in connection with the possible human trafficking case.

"We have four girls we're looking for," Johnson said. "We got a lead that's been run down now and hopefully from that we may be able to find the others because hopefully they're close by each other."

Channel 9 spoke to Johnson, who said the student was lured to North Carolina with a promise to be enrolled in a school in Charlotte. Instead, he was taken to Alamance County by Hines.

According to Johnson, the promise was to come to Charlotte and play basketball at Evelyn Mack Academy.

On its website, the school said players face the best teams in the nation and can get scholarships to Div. I schools. But Johnson said the promise was not reality.

“This juvenile supposedly was brought here to attend Evelyn Mack Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, and he did not attend that academy,” Johnson said.

Deputies said the standout football and basketball player from Nigeria was found living in a house with other children and no adult supervision.

Hines tried unsuccessfully to enroll three girls in the same school system, according to the sheriff. They are now missing and officials are desperate to find them.

"This causes me, folks, grave concern, where these young ladies are at,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he believes the suspects took money to traffic children into the U.S. to attend school and in some cases, play sports.

The investigation started in May when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association took away a combined 28 wins from Eastern Alamance’s football and basketball teams. The school had to forfeit $19,000 for playoff ticket sales.

Federal investigators, along with the Alamance County Sheriff's Office, are investigating the case to see if it's related to human trafficking, WTVD reported.

The FBI, State Department and the SBI are assisting in the investigation. Thomason and Hines have already bonded out of jail, and Hines spoke to Channel 9's sister station, WTVD, on Tuesday.

“The young man, he was taken from us,” Hines said.

After the case came to light, officials in Robeson County announced they are investigating 18 teenagers and young adults also recruited by Hines.

No description was released on the three missing girls.

Anyone with information on additional cases related to the investigation are asked to call Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

Evelyn Mack talks to Channel 9

Channel 9 investigator Paul Boyd tracked down the owner of the private Charlotte school linked to the growing case.

Boyd spoke to the school’s founder, Evelyn Mack, and asked her if she has any involvement in a human-trafficking operation.

Mack said the male student at the center of the investigation came to the United States two years ago on a student visa and was supposed to attend her academy.

However, Mack said that student never showed up at the school and said she canceled his I-20 student visa.

Mack was adamant she “never knew he arrived in the country."

She did not want to speak on camera but said, “I would never participate in human trafficking. All of my students are here legally."

Mack admitted she does know Hines, the man at the center of the federal investigation, but maintains this was "the one and only time I worked with him on a student visa."

Later in the day, Mack confirmed a second student was recruited by Hines. This student is from the Dominican Republic and currently plays for their basketball team. She also said she approved the boy's visa.

His basketball coach said he's had few interactions with Hines through that student.

Mack said her academy has been operating without problems for 17 years.

Channel 9 found a few problems on its website, including spelling mistakes. The main picture on the home page is not Evelyn Mack Academy, but the world renowned MIT.

Mack said a web designer is to blame for that mistake and said it will be taken down.

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