Used Craigslist, MySpace, YouTube and Other Social Networking Sites to Recruit Prostitutes and Sell Sexual Services
Baltimore, Maryland - Robert Harris, a/k/a “Little Rob,” age 21, of Chillicothe, Ohio, pleaded guilty today to charges related to running a sex and drug trafficking business from an apartment in Millersville, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.
According to Harris’ plea, from January to April, 2009, he participated in a conspiracy to conduct a prostitution business from an apartment in Millersville, Maryland. Harris and his co-conspirators transported, and enticed to travel, at least 12 individuals from at least two different states to Maryland. Specifically, Harris transported one girl from Ohio to Maryland to engage in prostitution. Once in Maryland, she was photographed unclothed as well as partially clothed and was given an alias. The photos and the alias were used in the Craigslist ads that offered her for sex acts. While a 202 phone number belonging to one of the co-conspirator was given in the ads for sex customers to call and make a date with the girl, Harris also provided his cellular telephone number in several ads for this purpose. Harris, co-conspirator Richard Johnson and other co-conspirators shared in the prostitution earnings of this young woman, as well as other girls who worked for them. Harris spent his earnings on illegal narcotics, jewelry, clothes and gold teeth.
Harris, Johnson and their co-conspirators used Craigslist, MySpace, YouTube, and other web-based social networking and classified advertising services, as well as cellular telephones, to recruit females to serve as prostitutes, to promote their prostitution business, and to advertise sexual services. Harris assisted his co-conspirators in obtaining prepaid debit cards to pay for ads posted on Craigslist for sexual services, in order to conceal their unlawful activities. When Harris traveled to Maryland from Ohio, he also brought an illegally obtained 9 mm Luger handgun with .380 ammunition. Harris understood that part of his role with regard to managing the brothel might entail confronting and threatening sex customers, and that this could be accomplished by brandishing his firearm. At some point between approximately February and April 2009, a co-conspirator did, in fact, brandish Harris’ firearm at a sex customer when a dispute over payment arose.
Beyond the threat and presence of firearms, the conspirators used threats and actual physical violence against female sex workers. On one occasion, Harris watched one of his co-conspirators beating a female sex worker when she refused to continue prostituting and did not intervene. On a different occasion, Harris physically assaulted the young woman he brought from Ohio when she refused to share her prostitution earnings. Harris also repeatedly threatened her over the sharing of her earnings.
Also according to the plea agreement, from at least January 2009 through September 2009, Harris, Johnson and their conspirators distributed illegal narcotics to associates, prostitutes, sex and drug customers and others, both inside and outside of Maryland. On at least one occasion, Harris went to Detroit, Michigan with a co-conspirator to purchase illegal narcotics. While in Detroit, Harris and the co-conspirator purchased and split approximately 200 Ecstasy and/or BZP pills, which they later distributed in Ohio and Maryland. After his federal incarceration in September 2009, Harris contacted and attempted to contact numerous potential witnesses, directly and through third parties, in order to influence the witnesses to change their statements.
Harris faces a maximum sentence of: life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison for sex trafficking by force; five years in prison for the prostitution conspiracy; 10 years in prison for transportation for prostitution; 20 years in prison for enticement; and 20 years in prison for the drug conspiracy. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz scheduled his sentencing for February 16, 2010 at 9:15 a.m.
Richard Johnson, age 22, of Chillicothe, Ohio, pleaded guilty on December 3, 2009, to the same charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 12, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.
The case was investigated by the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force formed in 2007 to discover and rescue victims of human trafficking while identifying and prosecuting offenders. Members include federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as victim service providers and local community members. For more information about the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, please visit http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/md/Human-Trafficking/index.html.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Anne Arundel County Police Department, Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Chillicothe, Ohio Police Department for their assistance and investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Solette A. Magnelli, who is prosecuting the case.