Snohomish County authorities were part of a 10-month investigation into allegations that the men were exploiting at least five minors. Prosecutors say the men were pimps, paying for motel rooms and Internet advertising so the girls could work as prostitutes. The defendants are accused of profiting from the sexual exploitation of minors.
The men, Jevante McCray and Isiah Martin, were charged late last week with second-degree human trafficking and multiple counts of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, authorities announced Tuesday. The charges were filed in Pierce County Superior Court as part of a unified prosecution in three counties, including here in Snohomish County.
Martin was arrested last week. An arrest warrant was issued for McCray on Friday.
The "filing should serve notice to pimps and johns alike that we will catch you and prosecute you for what you do to these young victims," Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said.
McCray, 20, and Martin, 18, were investigated in California earlier this year for assaulting a 16-year-old Puyallup girl they allegedly took to California. The girl told police she was forced to work as a prostitute and hand over any money she made to the men. She told California authorities that she was beaten and not fed if she refused to do what the men told her. She finally called police after she was assaulted in a motel room by both men, court papers said. The men fled the motel and California police were unable to locate them.
Authorities in Washington began investigating McCray and Martin in February after federal agents with the Innocence Lost Task Force started an operation to locate and recover a juvenile who appeared in advertisements on the website Backpage.com. The girl was advertising herself as an escort.
FBI agents set up a sting and located a 14-year-old Tacoma girl in a Lakewood motel room. The girl told authorities she'd been working as an escort for a couple of months. She denied that McCray and Martin were her pimps, but admitted she paid for the online advertisements using pre-paid debit cards provided by both men, court papers said. She also admitted that she'd spent a few nights with the men at an Everett motel before checking into the Lakewood motel.
Martin was arrested and Pierce County authorities in February charged him with promoting commercial sexual exploitation of a minor. A judge ordered that the man have not contact with the 14-year-old pending trial.
Two days later, the girl and another girl, 16, were located in a motel room in Shoreline by police after detectives saw another posting on Backpage.com. McCray was found sitting his car outside the motel. The 16-year-old admitted that she was working as a prostitute. She told detectives she'd known McCray since she was 13, but denied that he was her pimp. Another teenager told police she'd seen the girl give McCray money that she made from prostitution, court papers said.
Everett police became involved in the investigation in April, when a patrol officer contacted Martin outside the Sunrise Motel on Evergreen Way. The man was sitting in a parked car. The officer learned that Martin had an arrest warrant out of Pierce County for promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor.
The officer asked Martin what he was doing at the motel. He reportedly told the officer he was a "hustler" and the motel was his "spot," court papers said. Police hauled the man off to jail on the warrant.
They learned Martin had rented a room in the motel and found two girls, both 14, inside. The girls told police they were there without permission from their parents or guardians. An officer also learned that the man they'd just arrested had been prohibited by a Pierce County judge from having contact with one of the girls. She was the same girl Martin was accused of exploiting in Lakewood and Shoreline.
Both girls denied any involvement in prostitution. They also tried to cover for the pimp. The patrol officer seized the girl's cellular phone and the case was assigned to Everett police detective Tim Morgan and Snohomish County sheriff's detective Christopher Ferreira, both members of the North Sound Innocence Lost Task Force.
The FBI in 2003 launched the Innocence Lost Initiative to address an increase in child sex trafficking in the U.S. Since then, nearly 50 task forces have formed throughout the nation that include federal, state and local law enforcement officers. According to the FBI website, these groups have recovered more than 2,100 children and investigations have led to the convictions of more than 1,000 pimps, madams and others who have exploited children through prostitution.
Morgan has been part of the North Sound Innocence Lost Task Force for about four years. The Everett police detective has investigated several cases involving young people being trafficked here and across state lines.
Last year, Ferreira and Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Matt Baldock were assigned to track down and prosecute people using and profiting from minors engaged in prostitution. Their positions were funded by a $450,000 grant the county received last year from the U.S. Department of Justice.
This is the most elaborate case they've investigated involving sex trafficking of minors.
Over several months, investigators across the region obtained text messages and records from Backpage, including dozens of advertisements, allegedly showing that McCray and Martin were promoting the sexual exploitation of minors.
"The work by this outstanding multi-agency team has put an end to the career of two prolific and heartless human traffickers," King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said in a press release.
These investigations often can be difficult to prosecute, experts say. In most cases, the victims won't cooperate with authorities. They're often runaways taught not to trust police or social workers.
The pimps often buy them clothes, phones and other trinkets as a way to groom them. Then the minors are threatened, assaulted and manipulated into selling themselves, authorities said. Many are too young to legally consent to sex.
It is rare for these young people to be working in the sex trade on their own. The Internet has made it easier for these pimps to conduct business without being detected by police officers patrolling the streets. Customers go online to find prostitutes, and many of the encounters happen in motel rooms rented by the pimps.
In Snohomish County, various agencies have come together to offer services for the victims. The Sexual Exploitation and Intervention Network of Snohomish County has been meeting for several years to adapt existing social and health services for at-risk youth and victims of child sex trafficking.
Meanwhile, legislators passed several new laws aimed at child sex trafficking, including increased penalties. McCray and Martin face at least 20 years in prison if they are convicted as charged.
Lawmakers this year also passed legislation to require websites like Backpage.com to verify the age of those people buying sex-related advertisements. The law allows the companies' owners to be prosecuted for knowingly publishing sex-related ads involving minors if they didn't make a good-faith effort to verify the person's age.
Owners of Backpage sought to block the law, and a federal court judge granted them a temporary injunction.
If you need help
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call 425-258-9037. The 24-hour hotline will connect you with law enforcement and victim services.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of a sexual assault, call Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse 24-hour crisis line 425-252-4800 or 800-656-4673.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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