Why Is Sean Combs the Subject of a Homeland Security Investigation?

The raids of Sean Combs’s homes in Los Angeles and the Miami area this week raised a barrage of questions about the nature of the inquiry, which a federal official said was at least in part a human trafficking investigation.

The government has said little about the basis for the search warrants, but the raids came after five civil lawsuits were filed against Mr. Combs in recent months that accused him of violating sex trafficking laws. In four of the suits women accused him of rape, and in one a man accused him of unwanted sexual contact. Mr. Combs, a hip-hop impresario known as Puff Daddy and Diddy who has been a high-profile figure in the music industry since the 1990s, has vehemently denied all of the allegations, calling them “sickening.” Officials have not publicly named him as a target of any prosecution.

As the civil suits against Mr. Combs illustrate, the term human or sex trafficking has a broader meaning in the law than perhaps the more popularly understood image of organized crime and forced prostitution rings.

“Traditionally you think of trafficking as a pimp who has a stable of victims and then is trafficking them in the traditional sense of the word, for money,” said Jim Cole, a former supervisory special agent with Homeland Security Investigations who oversaw human trafficking cases, “but there are lots of forms of trafficking.”

The breadth of trafficking investigations has grown with the recent uptick in sexual abuse claims and the use of the internet by traffickers. Homeland Security Investigations often leads such criminal investigations, although the department is most commonly associated with immigration and transnational issues.

In the current inquiry, federal investigators in New York have been interviewing potential witnesses about sexual misconduct allegations against Mr. Combs for several months, according to a person familiar with the interviews. Some of the questions involved the solicitation and transportation of prostitutes, as well as any payments or promises associated with sex acts, the person said.

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