New York-Winooski Man Charged With Five Counts of Sex Trafficking
The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced that yesterday, April 27, 2017, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Brian Folks, 42, of New York City and Winooski, Vermont, with four counts of Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud, and Coercion, and one count of Sex Trafficking of a Minor.
Folks and two co-defendants were indicted federally on July 14, 2016, on charges of Conspiracy to Distribute 28 Grams or More of Cocaine Base and 100 Grams or More of Heroin and related crimes in Vermont. Yesterday, a federal grand jury in Burlington returned a superseding indictment, adding the new charges related to human trafficking. Specifically, Folks is accused of trafficking four individuals referred to in the indictment as “Victim A,” “Victim B,” “Victim C,” and “Victim D,” and using force, threats of force, fraud, and coercion to cause the victims to engage in commercial sex acts between June 2012 and February 2016. Folks is further accused of trafficking “Minor Victim E” for commercial sex in May 2013. Neither of Folks’ co-defendants named in the initial indictment is charged with human trafficking.
According to an affidavit in support of a search warrant application submitted on January 24, 2017 and unsealed today, law enforcement received information that Folks was sex trafficking multiple women – at least one as young as seventeen or eighteen – out of local motels, residences, and other locations. Folks preyed upon the drug addictions of his victims, withholding drugs from them until they were in withdrawal so severe that they complied with his demands that they perform commercial sex acts for his profit.
According to the affidavit, Folks typically photographed the women in sexually suggestive poses and various states of undress and posted them on “Backpage,” an Internet forum known for so-called adult and escort services, for purposes of selling the women for sex. According to the affidavit, Folks also blackmailed the women he coerced into sex trafficking by threatening to post to the Internet humiliating sexual photographs that revealed their identities. According to the same affidavit, law enforcement discovered a homemade video on Folks’ Facebook account that showed Folks narrating a disparaging and demeaning story about a woman who allegedly stole narcotics from him, interspersed with still photographs of her in sexual poses. Law enforcement also discovered an apparently homemade video advertising commercial sex posted to YouTube under the name “Moet Hart,” an alias for Folks. Finally, one victim referred to in the affidavit reported the use of physical violence and rape in order to secure her ongoing submission and his control.
If convicted, Folks faces a mandatory minimum of fifteen years of imprisonment and up to a maximum of life imprisonment for Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud, and Coercion. Folks also faces a mandatory minimum of ten years of imprisonment and up to a maximum of life imprisonment for Sex Trafficking of a Minor, and a mandatory minimum of five years and up to a maximum of forty years of imprisonment on the original drug conspiracy charge. The actual sentence, however, would be determined by the Court with guidance from the advisory Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
The United States Attorney emphasizes that the charges in the superseding indictment are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty.
Acting United States Attorney Eugenia A.P. Cowles commended the investigative efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the Burlington, South Burlington, and Essex Police Departments.
Cowles also stated, “Commercial sex trafficking is a rapidly rising problem in Vermont, a direct offshoot of the continuing opiate crisis, and an increasingly lucrative criminal enterprise. The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to prosecute individuals who prey upon the most vulnerable among us to exploit addiction for financial gain. As part of that effort, we continue to support the education and outreach efforts of Vermont’s Human Trafficking Task Force to assist individuals who have been coerced into commercial sex.”
In Vermont, victims of commercial sex trafficking can find immediate help by dialing 2-1-1.
The United States is represented in this matter by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Abigail Averbach, Timothy Doherty, Jr., and Wendy Fuller. Brian Folks is represented by William E. Kraham, Esq.