Billings man sentenced to five years in prison for sending nude picture of himself to fictitious girl in undercover operation
BILLINGS – Taj Tesfaye Hayes, 39, of Oceanside, California, was sentenced today in Billings federal court to prostitution-related racketeering charges. On July 31, Hayes pleaded guilty to one count of interstate travel in aid of racketeering. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Watters Sentenced Hayes to 18 months incarceration and 2 years supervised release.
In an offer of proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cyndee Peterson, the government stated that if the case had proceeded to trial, the government would have produced evidence that Hayes traveled in interstate commerce with the intent to promote, manage, establish, carry on or facilitate prostitution. Specifically, the government was prepared to prove that on February 20, 2015, Hayes rented a car in Oceanside, California. On March 25, Hayes drove the rental car to Las Vegas and then to Salt Lake City with a woman. While in Salt Lake City on the night of March 26, Hayes and the woman posted advertisements for commercial sex with the woman on www.backpage.com, an online classified ad site. On March 27, 2015, Hayes drove with the woman to Billings. They again posted advertisements on www.backpage.com advertising commercial sex with the woman.
An undercover FBI agent responded to the advertisement. The agent negotiated a price and arranged to meet the woman at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Billings. Agents met the woman and Hayes at the hotel and both were questioned. Both Hayes and the woman denied knowing one another, despite evidence to the contrary, including luggage containing male and female attire in the woman’s hotel room, two baseball caps in Hayes’ backpack that had been worn by the woman in the backpage.com ads, and a debit card issued in the woman’s name tucked into the hat Hayes was wearing. One of the Agents called the number listed in the backpage.com ad, and it rang to a phone taken from Hayes.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cyndee Peterson and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation as part of an operation targeting sex trafficking in the Billings area.