KENNEWICK — A Kennewick woman who forced underage girls to have sex with men was sentenced Wednesday to one year in jail — an exceptionally low sentence for the felony charge.
Melissa Marie Salsbury recruited girls, ages 17 and 18, to work as dancers. But once under her command, she would rent hotel rooms and force the girls to have sex with paying customers, the Tri-City Herald reported.
Court documents say Salsbury would threaten the girls by saying she would tell their parents or boyfriends what they did if the girls didn’t do as told.
Detectives found out about her operation when one of the girls sought help from a school counselor.
She pleaded guilty Oct. 26 in Benton County Superior Court to promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, a felony. The ordered jail term was significantly lower than the standard range of seven years and nine months to 10 years and three months in prison.
But Benton County Judge Craig Matheson granted the exceptional sentence on Wednesday after finding “substantial and compelling reasons exist” to justify it, including that Salsbury had been similarly exploited when she was younger.
The recommendation came out of a plea agreement between Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long and defense attorney Gary Metro.
In a court document filed Wednesday supporting the lower sentence, the lawyers wrote that Salsbury fully cooperated with law enforcement, turned over evidence and gave a full statement regarding her involvement in the incident.
Her cooperation also led to the successful arrest and prosecution of four defendants — including her husband Stanley Lynn Salsbury Jr., who court documents say shared the profits and accompanied her to the motel several times and paid for the room.
He got a deferred sentence with 10 days in jail for prostitution, a gross misdemeanor, and can return to court in September to have his conviction vacated and dismissed if he doesn’t get any other violations.
A fifth suspect is awaiting trial.
According to Kennewick police and prosecutors, Salsbury lured high school girls to work for her between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010, “by telling them they would be dancing for money.”
Four men were charged with going to the hotel and paying money to have sex with the girls. Three of them pleaded guilty.
Salsbury gave birth in October. A court document points out that while doing her jail time, she will be absent “from her child in the most formative/bonding times in the child’s life, which is in itself a form of punishment.”
The document also says “of a more troubling nature in this case” is the fact that Salsbury herself was a victim as a minor, recruited into exotic dancing and then forced into prostitution by an older woman.
Court documents say Salsbury was told she would be traded into the sex slave industry if she didn’t cooperate, and she in turn instilled this same fear into her victims.
Salsbury’s “lack of understanding of how this crime affected the other girls is evident in her belief that she was befriending the victims, actually cared about them and believed she was helping them despite involving them in the prostitution trade truly shows that her mindset is similar to that of the victims in this matter,” the court document supporting the exceptional sentence said.