10/08/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/07/2014 05:59 EST

North Preston's Finest Gang Funnels Girls To Ontario For Prostitution: Police

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BRADFORD, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Nikki a teenage prostitute waits for customers in the red light area of Bradford on May 27, 2010 in Bradford, England. West orkshire Police have today charged Stephen Griffiths, 40, of the murders of missing sex workers Suzanne Blamires, Shelley Armitage and Susan Rushworth. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Police in Ontario say the gang known as North Preston's Finest is actively recruiting girls and women from the Maritimes, forcing them into a life of prostitution in cities across Canada.

The notorious gang, with roots in the small Nova Scotia community of North Preston, northeast of Halifax, was first identified by police in Toronto in the early 1990s.  

Det. Thai Truong of York Regional Police, north of Toronto, said it's common to run into pimps who say they're from North Preston or have ties to North Preston, and women who've been moved from the Maritimes to regions around Toronto.

"We're seeing a lot of girls, and we have seen a lot of victims that are from the East Coast and the pimps that are controlling them are from the East Coast," Truong said. 

The women are recruited in the Maritimes and then quickly moved, he said.

"Once the girls are recruited, the Scotian or the pimp is generally, or typically, not going to be pimping her out from where she's from," Truong said. 

"He's going to be taking her out of her own jurisdiction, out of her comfort zone, where her family is, her friends are. Any social supports she may have. He's going to move her west and essentially they find their way... a lot of the time in Ontario and" the Greater Toronto Area, he said.

The detective said that makes it especially difficult for police in Nova Scotia and other Maritime provinces to address the problem.

"Their hands are sort of tied," he said, because while the women and girls are recruited in the Maritimes, they are being moved and the offences are compounding in other jurisdictions.

Gina, whose real name CBC News agreed to withhold for her safety, said she was lured into prostitution by a member of North Preston's Finest when she was 15 years old. 

She was living on the streets of Toronto when, she said, a man from North Preston offered her a better life.

"He painted me a picture of what I can have, like freedom of money and financial freedom and I would have everything I needed and wanted," she said. "And it all sounded really good to me because that's why I came to Toronto, because I wanted to succeed in doing something."

'First they treat you nice'

For the next six years, Gina said, she was frequently beaten and forced to sell her body for sex.

"First, they treat you nice and everything, but then it happens with just a slap in the face," she said.

"A simple slap in the face, to using objects, to dragging you and degrading you and saying 'get naked, you stink.' Mental abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, lots of different types of abuses happen, but it starts small and it escalates."

She said she was just one in what she calls a "stable" of women.

"It was normal. I even brought women home myself. If he couldn't get them, I would bring them home or get their numbers, either way. Yeah, I was totally involved in him bringing women home."

Gina said she eventually managed to leave her pimp, but only after paying a $15,000 "leaving fee."

Truong said police don't for sure how many people are involved with North Preston's Finest. He said it's one of a number of groups trafficking women in the Toronto area and across the country.

He said prostitution is a lucrative business and pimps can make more money from trafficking women than selling cocaine or guns.