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Columbia man pleads guilty to coerced sex trafficking of a child

October 12, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Columbia, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to selling a child victim into prostitution.

Eric Gathings, also known as “Pulu,” 37, of Columbia, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner to the charge contained in a March 1, 2011, federal indictment.

Gathings admitted that in 2009 he recruited a homeless minor to engage in prostitution for his financial benefit. Gathings provided housing for the minor victim, but took her earnings after requiring that she sell herself for sex.

After discharging a sawed-off shotgun in his front yard, Gathings was incarcerated in state custody. During this time of incarceration, he continued to sell the minor victim through the assistance of an organized prostitution ring called Aleesha Angels. Gathings had the minor victim provide him with her prostitution earnings to assist him with bond and later to provide him with funding for his prisoner’s account.

Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Gathings is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

By pleading guilty today, Gathings also agreed to forfeit to the government $10,000 that was derived from commercial sex trafficking. Gathings must also pay restitution to his victim, including future restitution for counseling and medical costs.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia L. Cordes. It was investigated by the FBI and the Columbia, Mo., Police Department, with assistance from the Cole County, Mo., Prosecutor’s Office, in conjunction with the Human Trafficking Rescue Project.

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