Seven people have been charged in four separate criminal complaints with sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to sex traffic minors.
The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison for each victim, a maximum of life and a $250,000 fine.
Charged are Stephen Jones, 27; Kasandra Weeks, 22; Leeosha Allen, 21; Martin Pullin, 23; Thaddeus Grice, 36; Maraida Echevarria, 25; and Christian Nartey, 23. All are from Rochester.
Jones and Weeks are also charged with trafficking of an adult through the use of force and Echevarria and Nartey with transporting a minor across state lines to engage in sex trafficking.
“These defendants stand accused of seeking out and preying upon some of the more vulnerable victims in our community,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., announcing the arrests Wednesday in Rochester. “Coming from difficult circumstances, victims were lured by the promise of money and drugs, or coerced with violence. Law enforcement will continue its efforts to abolish this modern day form of slavery.”
According to the complaints, some victims were located through social media accounts. Jones allegedly went to the Department of Social Services or women shelters and waited until girls appearing young in age came outside. Victims were promised quick money and drugs, and on other occasions, threatened with violence. The victims lived with the defendants at hotels and various houses associated with the defendants.
Regarding the sex trafficking, defendants posted daily advertisements using fake photos for the victims on backpage.com and myprovider.com. One advertisement read: “ITS KRISTEN AND ASHLEY!! Ur 2 favorite young GODDESS up all day READY2play!! 🙂 CALL NOW!!”
Victims were taken from the Rochester area to Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Utica and New Jersey to engage in prostitution activities and avoid detection by law enforcement. To keep control over the victims, the defendants allegedly kept the money earned from prostitution activities and limited the victims’ communications with family and friends.
“It’s a story of threats, intimidation, violence and slavery where young girls are being forced into a world of sex for money,” said James Spero, special agent in charge of Homeland Securities Investigations Buffalo, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Human trafficking is not something that is happening far away,” Spero said. “Young girls and women in your neighborhood are being victimized every day. The threat is everywhere. The allegations in this case are particularly troubling because of the volume of defendants who were accessing these young girls, but it underscores HSI’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to search out exploiters who work to victimize very young women and children.”
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa M. Marangola, the defendants targeted and manipulated seven minors and two adult victims between June 2013 and March 2014 to engage in prostitution activities. Many of the victims were at-risk and vulnerable.
Hochul said children and parents should remember common sense tips, all of which begin with T: Technology, threat, talk, trust and turn.
“Young people, watch your tech, including Internet-connected phones, computers, online games and social media sites,” Hochul warned. “The threat does not come solely from men; women also may be predators and lookouts for victims. Watch your talk — strangers look and listen for vulnerable children. Trust your gut and always turn to parents, counselors and loved ones at any sign of danger.”
He said parents should recognize the threat, talk to their children and be aware traffickers most often target the young, lonely, alienated or those who have no one to protect them.
The criminal complaints are the culmination of an investigation on the part of the ICE HSI, under the direction of Spero; the FBI; Rochester Police Department, directed by Chief Michael Ciminelli; the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, directed by Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn; the Brighton Police Department, directed by Chief Mark Henderson; and the Gates Police Department, directed by Chief James Vanbrederode.
Additional assistance was provided by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, directed by District Attorney Sandra Doorley.