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Press Release

Three Additional Defendants Plead Guilty in Connection with Sex Trafficking Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Louisiana
Sex Trafficking Scheme Used Threats, Violence and Coercion to Compel Women into Prostitution in New Orleans and Elsewhere

WASHINGTON – Today, three additional defendants pleaded guilty in connection with a sex trafficking scheme operated out of the Riviera Motel in New Orleans, Louisiana, which compelled multiple women to engage in prostitution in New Orleans and elsewhere, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Defendants Duane Phillips, 29, and Christopher Williams, 30, both of whom are residents of Memphis, Tennessee, each pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit sex trafficking of adult victims by force, fraud and coercion in New Orleans and elsewhere.  Defendant Anthony Ellis, 26, also of Memphis, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit sex trafficking of adult victims and one count of transportation for purposes of prostitution.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate trafficking in human beings, and will continue to relentlessly pursue justice on behalf of vulnerable members of our society, whether they are migrants from beyond our borders or whether they are young women from our own communities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta.  “We will continue in our steadfast determination to hold accountable those who use force and coercion to exploit other human beings.”

“These defendants recruited vulnerable victims from the New Orleans community and brought other victims to New Orleans to engage in commercial sex trafficking,” said U.S. Attorney Polite.  “These crimes often pass without detection because victims live in fear from physical abuse, threats and other forms of coercion.  My office is committed to prosecuting individuals who manipulate victims into committing commercial sex acts and profit from this illegal conduct.”

“This investigation and prosecution should serve as a clear reminder to all those individuals engaged in the heinous crime of sex trafficking that the full force of federal law enforcement, across geographical boundaries, will bring them to swift justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael Anderson of the FBI’s New Orleans Division.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that 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 Acting Special Agent in Charge Cindy M. Johnson of Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) New Orleans Field Office.  “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.”

Two defendants have previously pleaded guilty in connection with the case.  On June 25, 2014, defendant Zacchaeus Taylor pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and to Transportation for Purposes of Prostitution.  On March 4, 2015, Laquentin Brown pleaded guilty to the same charges.  Each face a maximum of five years on the conspiracy count and a maximum of 10 years on the transportation for prostitution count.

On Oct. 3, 2014, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Louisiana returned a Second Superseding Indictment charging defendants Phillips, Williams and Ellis, along with additional defendants Granville Robinson and Laquentin Brown, with sex trafficking conspiracy and varying counts of sex trafficking and transportation for prostitution.  The Second Superseding Indictment also charged defendant Kanubhai Patel, who was the former owner of the Riviera Motel, with benefitting financially from the sex trafficking conspiracy.  Defendant Taylor was charged separately on March 28, 2014.  Of the seven defendants charged in connection with the sex trafficking scheme, five have entered guilty pleas.  An indictment is merely an accusation and defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

During their respective plea hearings and in their respective court filings, defendants Phillips, Williams and Ellis admitted that they, along with co-defendants Robinson and Brown, all of whom are from Memphis, conspired to recruit, groom, force, compel and coerce adult women to engage in prostitution, enforcing rules and means of control that included requiring the women to earn a certain amount of money each day, requiring them to turn over the proceeds and prohibiting them from speaking to or looking at other pimps.  Williams admitted intentionally trying to impregnate women to make it harder for them to leave him, while some of the other defendants took the victims’ identification cards and documents.  To enforce the rules, Phillips, Williams and Ellis each admitted that they and their co-conspirators used a variety of punishments, including withholding food, forcing the victims to engage in additional commercial sex acts, as well as physical assaults.  Williams noted that he attempted to avoid visible bruising so that the victims would not draw the attention of the police or scare off prospective customers.  Phillips, Williams and Ellis each admitted that they and their co-conspirators consulted one another on means of furthering their pimping activities, and would monitor each other’s victims when a co-conspirator was incarcerated.  Phillips, Williams, Ellis and the other co-conspirators frequently stayed at the Riviera Motel because they knew that the hotel staff would not stop them from pimping women.

At sentencing, defendant Ellis faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on the transportation for prostitution charge and a maximum sentence of five years on the conspiracy charge.  Defendants Phillips and Williams each face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the sex trafficking conspiracy.

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

Duane Phillips Factual Basis      Christopher Williams Factual Basis        Anthony Ellis Factual Basis

Updated September 2, 2015