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Press Release

Tennessee Man Sentenced to Over 24 Years in Prison for Operating Sex Trafficking Enterprise

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Sex Trafficking Scheme Used Threats, Violence and Coercion to Compel Women into Prostitution in New Orleans and Elsewhere

The Justice Department announced today that Granville Robinson, 27, of Memphis, Tennessee, was sentenced to 294 months in prison for his role in operating a sex trafficking scheme out of the Riviera Motel in New Orleans, using force and threats to compel multiple women to engage in prostitution for the defendants’ profit in New Orleans and elsewhere.

On Feb. 3, 2016, Robinson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking.  A restitution hearing is scheduled for July 13, 2016.  Six other defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the case, and are awaiting sentencing.  

“Trafficking in human beings is abhorrent to our nation’s belief in freedom, dignity, and individual rights,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division is deeply committed to seeking justice on behalf of vulnerable individuals, and we will continue to be unwavering in our commitment to restoring the lives of human trafficking victims and survivors, and to holding human traffickers accountable.”

“Of the seven defendants convicted in this prosecution, Robinson was the most violent,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana.  “He regularly used physical abuse to coerce vulnerable victims – including a pregnant woman – into a life of prostitution for his benefit.  Today's lengthy sentence was certainly warranted, and it reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that human traffickers like Robinson are held accountable for their criminal actions.”

“Today, we have removed Granville Robinson not just off of the streets of Louisiana, but also from the streets of America,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI’s New Orleans Office.  “He is nothing short of a predator who took advantage of and abused vulnerable women.  His need for control and greed comes to an end today with this lengthy sentence he so justly deserves.”

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that ICE Homeland Security Investigations fights as one of its highest priorities via a coordinated global effort with the FBI and our state and local law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer Jr. of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans.  “The results speak for themselves; over the past two years HSI has doubled its number of human trafficking arrests. HSI will continue to investigate and seek prosecution of these criminals while also ensuring the victims of this terrible crime are rescued and get the care they need.”

On Oct. 3 2014, Robinson and co-defendants Duane Phillips, Christopher Williams, Anthony Ellis and Laquentin Brown were charged in a second superseding indictment with sex trafficking conspiracy and varying counts of sex trafficking and transportation for prostitution.  An additional defendant, Kanubhai Patel, who owned the Riviera Motel where the sex trafficking scheme was based, was charged in the same indictment with benefitting financially from sex trafficking.  A seventh defendant, Zacchaeus Taylor, was charged separately on March 28, 2014.

According to Robinson’s admissions during his plea hearing and other court documents, he enforced strict rules on the women he trafficked as part of his conspiracy.  These rules included requiring the women to earn a minimum amount each day, to provide him with all of their earnings and to seek his permission to stop prostituting for the night.  Robinson confiscated some women’s identification to make it harder for them to leave, and forced some to get tattoos signifying that they belonged to him.  When the women broke the rules or did not earn enough money, Robinson physically assaulted them.

Robinson acknowledged compelling and coercing more than 10 different women to engage in prostitution for his profit from 2012 through January 2014 in connection with the charged conspiracy.  Robinson admitted to using force to punish and control the women, including one instance of punching and kicking a woman in the abdomen, knowing she was pregnant, to punish her for texting without his permission, and another instance of shoving a woman into a toilet tank hard enough to break it, then striking her repeatedly with a wooden board, to punish her for reportedly planning to escape.

Robinson and his co-defendants aided each other by posting bond for each other following arrests, monitoring the women and reporting to each other any violations of the rules the defendants imposed on the women and transporting women together from New Orleans to Texas, Tennessee, Maryland and Washington, D.C., for prostitution.  When two women tried to escape on one such trip, Robinson and a co-defendant found them, forced them into a car, and brought them back to New Orleans to continue prostituting.

Robinson and his co-defendants operated out of certain motels, including the Riviera, which generally did not report their activities to the police.  The defendants rented multiple rooms at the Riviera where women would meet prostitution clients, and paid the Riviera above-market rates to reflect the high traffic through the rooms.

On July 1, 2015, Patel pleaded guilty to benefitting financially from human trafficking.  In March and April 2015, Phillips, Williams, Ellis and Brown pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion.  Ellis and Brown also pleaded guilty to interstate transportation for prostitution.  On June 25, 2014, Taylor pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and interstate transportation for prostitution.

This case was investigated jointly by the FBI’s New Orleans Division and HSI’s New Orleans Field Office, with assistance from the FBI’s Memphis Division.  This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti and Former Special Litigation Counsel John Cotton Richmond of the Civil Right Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Updated May 4, 2016

Human Trafficking
Press Release Number: 16-526