Brian Folks Convicted of Sex and Drug Trafficking in Forcing and Coercing Heroin Addicted Women to Prostitute
After a three week trial in United States District Court in Burlington, Vermont, on May 9,
2019, the jury found Brian Folks, 44, guilty of 13 felonies arising from his 2012 – 2016 operation of a sex and drug trafficking ring in Burlington. Folks used force, fraud, and coercion to control and manipulate dozens of young, drug addicted women into prostitution. During the time he prostituted the women, he also supplied them with heroin.
Twenty witnesses testified for the government, including eight women, most of whom were addicted to drugs and worked in his sex and/or drug trafficking business. Two additional victims died of drug overdoses prior to trial. Another approximately one dozen involved women were referenced during the trial. Only first names were used at trial and in court filings in an effort to protect victim privacy.
Most women testified that at the outset Folks offered to split prostitution earnings 50/50 with them. However, they soon wound up giving their 50% to Folks to buy drugs from him. Folks thus pocketed 100% of prostitution earnings.
The jury deliberated about six hours yesterday before convicting Folks of all drug and human trafficking charges. The 13 convictions included five counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; one count of sex trafficking of a minor; four counts of distributing heroin; one count of possessing heroin and cocaine base with intent to distribute; one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine base, and one count of operating an unlawful prostitution business enterprise.
U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan for the District of Vermont stated, “This conviction represents a total vindication for victims of human trafficking, who bravely told their stories of abuse and degradation at the hands of Folks. Folks is a merciless predator, who targeted vulnerable young addicted women. We are grateful that a Vermont jury has served up justice. We hope that this conviction will help the countless other victims of human trafficking find their voices and come forward to seek help and services. We will never stop looking for them, connecting them with recovery services, and seeking convictions and stiff penalties for those who would commit this most heinous of crimes. I commend the collaboration of federal and local law enforcement officers who tirelessly pursued Folks, showing compassion and support for the victims and a recognition that combatting human trafficking is a crucial component of our anti-drug campaign.”
Trial evidence indicated that Folks targeted young, vulnerable women in the Burlington area. Most had experienced very challenging backgrounds, including physical and sexual abuse as children in broken homes. By the time Folks found them they were often addicted and homeless. Folks identified their weaknesses, recruited them, and exploited them for profit. Two women described how he promised them love and security and they fell in love with him. Both wound up being marketed as prostitutes. Various women also described how Folks, when they were experiencing withdrawal symptoms and needed drugs, offered them heroin in exchange for various degrading sexual acts, which he videotaped. Among the defendant’s victims were three young women whom he approached when they were age 17, each suffering from drug addiction. All three wound up photographed by Folks in their underwear and advertised in the “escort” section of Backpage.com. One such victim, since deceased, was the subject of the sex trafficking of a minor conviction.
Folks maintained strict rules to ensure compliance and profit from his sex and drugs businesses. He subjected his employees – all of whom were women – to violence and humiliation if they violated his rules, including beating, raping and physical violence. In early 2016 Folks punished the subject of the minor trafficking conviction by creating and publishing on his Facebook page a strongly derogatory video denouncing her as a promiscuous addict. Folks kept a digital library containing thousands of photographs and videos of his victims. He has a Manslaughter 1 conviction in his native New York City.
“DEA will aggressively pursue individuals like Mr. Folks who distribute heroin in order to profit and destroy people’s lives,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle. “Today’s verdict not only holds Mr. Folks accountable for his crimes but serves as a warning to those traffickers who are fueling the opioid epidemic.”
Folks was represented at trial by Burlington attorneys Mark Kaplan and Natasha Sen. They sought to persuade the jury that government witnesses lied about Folks. Folks took the stand and testified on his own behalf, urging that he merely helped women who wished to prostitute and did not coerce or manipulate anyone.
The defendant’s sentencing has not yet been scheduled. He faces a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, as well as restitution to sex trafficking victims.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stated, “Brian Folks used violent means to force young women suffering from opioid addictions to perform commercial sex acts, causing them immeasurable harm, and he contributed to the destruction of multiple lives by selling opioids to our communities.” “Human traffickers are exploiting the opioid epidemic with increasing frequency. Their depraved conduct, like this defendant’s, will not be tolerated, and the Department of Justice will continue its vigorous efforts to hold them accountable, bring justice to their victims, and prevent them from harming others.”
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency, with assistance from the Essex, Burlington and Winooski Police Departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States was represented at trial by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow, and Trial Attorney Emily Savner and Special Litigation Counsel Matthew Grady from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.