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Press Release

SDTX efforts continue against human traffickers

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

HOUSTON – As National Human Trafficking Awareness Month comes to a close, the Southern District of Texas (SDTX) has reaffirmed its commitment to working with federal, state and local partners to combat human trafficking in all its forms, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. 

“Human trafficking is especially heinous,” said Hamdani. “Our office will continue to use every available resource to charge those who cause imaginable harm and exploit and endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Over the past year, the SDTX has charged approximately a dozen cases as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) and has multiple active investigations and ongoing prosecutions on several more. Nearly 20 individuals are pending trial.

Two such matters in the SDTX involve men facing life in prison. Jonathan Smith-Byrd and Larry Odell Lewis allegedly used force, fraud and coercion to cause multiple women to engage in commercial sex. Both indictments allege the men coerced victims to engage in sex acts across state lines.

Two of Smith-Byrd’s alleged victims were minors when he trafficked them, according to the charges.

Just yesterday, a woman admitted to trafficking other women from a cantina bathroom as well as sex trafficking of a minor. She forced them into commercial sex and took their money. If they refused, she often threatened them with violence.

Another recent example includes a Houstonian who attempted to entice a South Texas minor into commercial sex which resulted in a more than 10-year federal prison sentence. At the time of his plea, Malcolm Lenard Thomas admitted to communicating via Instagram with someone he thought was a 15-year-old girl. He sent a bus ticket knowing the minor was coming to Houston to engage in commercial sex. He claimed his role would be to provide her with protection.

The undercover operation demonstrated how law enforcement is making efforts, in addition to recovering victims, by trying to stop the traffickers before they connect with actual children. 

Hamdani attended a meeting with HTRA law enforcement members this month as well. He spoke and expressed his commitment to battling the human trafficking problem in the SDTX and elsewhere and commended HTRA and SDTX efforts in doing so thus far.

“HTRA will continue to be the gold standard for human trafficking task forces,” Hamdani added. “The efforts of law enforcement as well as the non-governmental organizations and others who provide victim services are so greatly appreciated. It takes all of us working together towards the same goal that makes this task force what it is today. I am proud our office has been a part of it since its inception.” 

HTRA law enforcement includes members of the Houston Police Department; FBI, Homeland Security Investigations; Texas Attorney General’s Office; IRS-Criminal Investigation; Department of Labor (DOL); DOL – Wage and Hour Division; Department of State;  Federal Air Marshals; Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission; Texas Department of Public Safety; Texas Rangers; Texas Parks and Wildlife; Social Security Administration – OIG; Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation; Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as well as police departments in Houston Independent School District (ISD), Conroe ISD and Missouri City; Harris County constables offices – Precincts one and four; sheriff’s offices in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Waller counties in coordination with District Attorney’s offices in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Galveston Counties. They work in coordination with victim service providers such as YMCA, United Against Human Trafficking and Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners.

Established in 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston formed HTRA to combine resources with federal, state and local enforcement agencies and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those that the traffickers victimized. Since its inception, HTRA has been recognized as both a national and international model in identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking and prosecuting those engaged in trafficking offenses.

“As we come to the end of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we must not forget to look for the signs of human trafficking each and every day,” said Hamdani. “Together, we can combat this insidious crime and help to create a safer environment for everyone.”

To report a tip or ask for help, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Updated January 31, 2023

Human Trafficking