Former Carroll County Coach and Substitute Teacher Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge for Sexual Exploitation of a Child
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Chukwuemeka Ekwonna, age 29, of Glenn Dale, Maryland, today to 14 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release for two counts of sex trafficking of a minor. Specifically, between October 2016 and February 2017, Ekwonna, who was an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, D.C. at the time, engaged in sexual conduct with two girls, who were 14 and 15 years old, in exchange for money. Both victims were students in the ninth grade at the time of the offenses.
In a separate case, on May 13, 2019, Charles Mario Brown, Sr., age 48, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. Brown admitted that he operated a prostitution business involving a 16-year-old female, and at least four adult females, who performed commercial sex acts in the Baltimore area.
The sentence and guilty plea were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Acting Special Agent in Charge Cardell T. Morant of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief Timothy Altomare of the Anne Arundel County Police Department; Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess; and Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler.
U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur stated, “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring human traffickers to justice and protect our most vulnerable.”
According to Ekwonna’s plea agreement, beginning about January 24, 2016, Ekwonna worked as a police officer with MPD in Washington, D.C. Since 2010, Ekwonna has used an account on a social media and dating platform that allows users to search for others based on location and to engage in real-time chat. Ekwonna used his social media account to solicit many other users to engage in sex acts with him for money, including while he served as a police officer.
Between December 19, 2016, and April 5, 2017, Ekwonna exchanged approximately 200 messages, both text and through the social media dating platform, with a 14-year-old girl (“Girl 1”). On several occasions, Ekwonna offered to pay Girl 1 to engage in sex acts with him. Ekwonna met with Girl 1 and engaged in sex acts with her on at least five occasions, between October 18, 2016, and February 15, 2017. Ekwonna engaged in illegal sex with the underage girl in different locations in the Annapolis area, including in motel rooms and Ekwonna’s vehicle. Ekwonna typically paid Girl 1 between $30 and $40 to have sex with him. Messages between Ekwonna and the 14-year-old girl suggest that she was aware that Ekwonna was a police officer.
On January 9, 2017, Ekwonna exchanged approximately 54 messages through the dating platform with a second underage girl, who was 15 years old at the time (“Girl 2”). In these messages, Ekwonna offered to pay the 15-year-old girl to engage in sex acts with him. Ekwonna met Girl 2 in Glen Burnie, where he gave her $80 and engaged in sex acts with her in the back of his car. According to Girl 2’s testimony at the sentencing hearing, after they had sex, Ekwonna locked her in the car, pointed a black handgun at her and demanded she return the money he had paid her. As part of his sentence, Ekwonna was ordered to pay $80 in restitution to the victim. His car and his black police-issued handgun were ordered forfeited to the government.
According to Brown’s plea agreement, Brown and his co-conspirator met a 16-year-old runaway (“Victim 1”) in November 2016, while she was walking in Baltimore. Brown and the co-conspirator directed Victim 1 to meet with sex customers who called or sent text messages in response to online prostitution advertisements featuring the victim, which were posted by the conspirators. The conspirators agreed to provide Victim 1 with food and a place to stay in exchange for money she earned through commercial sex acts, and bought her lingerie that she wore in photos taken for prostitution ads. Brown drove Victim 1 to outcalls, where Victim 1 engaged in commercial sex acts and collected payment. Brown and the co-conspirator directed Victim 1 to give them at least some of the proceeds from her commercial sex acts, and she did so.
On December 9, 2016, an undercover Harford County Sheriff’s Office detective contacted a phone number found in the cell phone of a deceased male sex customer A.G. (A.G. suffered a fatal heroin overdose in a hotel room in Edgewood, Maryland in the presence of one of Brown’s adult female sex workers.) The detective contacted the phone number to arrange an overnight commercial sex date at a hotel in Edgewood and to request heroin. At the co-conspirator’s request, Victim 1 communicated with the detective to make arrangements for the commercial sex date, which included taking $1,000 for the purchase of heroin after arriving at the hotel.
As detailed in his plea agreement, Brown and the co-conspirator transported Victim 1 and an adult female to the hotel. Victim 1 and the woman went into the hotel room identified by the detective. Investigators recognized Victim 1 from prostitution ads posted online, and Victim 1 identified herself by the name listed in those ads. Brown and his co-conspirator, who were waiting in the SUV outside the hotel room, were arrested and their cell phones were seized. Forensic examination of the cell phones revealed numerous communications in furtherance of the prostitution business.
Brown and the government have agreed that, if the Court accepts the plea, Brown will be sentenced to seven years in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow has scheduled sentencing for September 16, 2019, at 1:00 p.m.
These cases were 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 of the Task Force 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.justice.gov/usao/md/priorities_human.html. Suspected instances of human trafficking can be reported to HSI’s tip line at 866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.
In addition, the cases were prosecuted as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc. For more information about Internet safety education, please visit www.justice.gov/psc and click on the “resources” tab on the left of the page.
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended Homeland Security Investigations, the Anne Arundel County Police Department, and the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the Ekwonna investigation, and commended HSI and the Harford County Sheriff’s Office for their work in the Brown case. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary A. Myers and Matthew D. Maddox, who are prosecuting the Ekwonna and Brown cases, respectively.