GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – Tyrone Smith, 46, of Lansing, Michigan, received a sentence of 25 years in federal prison for sex trafficking numerous women and one minor, U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles announced today. In November 2015, Smith pled guilty to two counts of using force, threats, fraud, and coercion to sex traffic two victims; and one count related to transporting two other victims from Michigan to Chicago for prostitution. Smith previously spent 12 years in prison for second degree murder.
Smith recruited vulnerable, abused, and drug addicted women, as well as a 17-year-old minor, to work under what he branded his "New Stars" prostitution label. He operated a house of prostitution in Lansing and also took the women and the minor to Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Chicago for commercial sex. Smith maintained control over the victims with a steady stream of crack cocaine and heroin, and by using force, threats, and violence against them when they disobeyed him. When one of the women left Smith, he found her, broke a window, dragged her from room to room by her hair, brought her back to his prostitution house in Lansing, heated up a metal spoon on the stove and pressed it to her eye, and video recorded her apologizing for her disloyalty to "the family." Another victim, a minor, had a severe history of sexual abuse from a young age, and Smith recruited her after she ran away from home, supplied her with hard drugs, and manipulated her with a combination of violence and what the minor perceived as affection.
One of the victims spoke at the sentencing hearing. She described how she initially felt lucky to be taken in by Smith so she would have a place to stay and not be out on the streets that winter, how Smith at first made her feel loved and special, and how he became extremely violent and manipulative towards her. She explained that Smith once held a pillow over her face and a screwdriver to her eye, threatening to take her eye out, and how he regularly hit her. She also explained that she has a long road of counseling ahead and is hoping one day to put this all behind her and get her life back on track. The judge ordered Smith to pay $20,000 in restitution to her for future counseling, which Smith will pay from prison wages. In announcing the sentence, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker described this as a very serious crime that people need to know is happening in their community.
"Yesterday’s sentencing sends a clear message that sex trafficking, particularly of minors, will not be tolerated," said David Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Detroit Field Office. "The efforts of the FBI and our law enforcement partners have removed a human trafficker from our streets. We will continue to prioritize the investigation of sexual exploitation crimes, bring to justice those who exploit others for profit, and endeavor to restore the rights and dignity of human trafficking victims."
The FBI, Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, and East Lansing Police Department jointly investigated the Smith case, with assistance from the Michigan State Police, and Assistant United States Attorney Tessa K. Hessmiller prosecuted it.
This was the third federal sentencing for sex trafficking in the Western District of Michigan, after Eddie Jackson received a 30-year sentence in 2014 for sex trafficking three minors in Muskegon and Grand Rapids and Christopher Bryant received a 40-year sentence last year for sex trafficking three minors and an adult. In a fourth case, Anthony Wilson-Lackey, Shyron Smith, and Stephanie Martin all pled guilty in February and are awaiting sentencing. In each case, the traffickers used different techniques to recruit the minors. Sometimes, they used another teenager or young woman to introduce them to minors in person or over social media or text messaging. One of the traffickers recruited a minor at a bus station by asking her if she wanted to make money helping him sell drugs. One of the traffickers recruited a minor over social media and asked if she wanted to make money modeling or strip dancing, and he later asked if she wanted to make $1,000 a night through commercial sex. Several of the minors lived with their families, and the traffickers brought them home after only one day away at a time. Other minors were runaways. All of the traffickers used drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, and money to lure the minors, as well as a combination of "romance" and violence as needed to control the victims. The minors in these four cases were white, black, and Hispanic, and they ranged in age from 14 to 17.
Referring to both the Smith and Bryant sex trafficking cases, Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth stated, "The Ingham County Sheriff’s Office continues its commitment to investigate these insidious crimes. The United States Department of Justice, FBI, Michigan State Police, East Lansing Police Department, and Ingham County Sheriff’s Office worked very hard to bring these cases to the proper conclusion by getting these criminals off the streets."
The Department of Justice (DOJ) investigates and prosecutes child sex trafficking cases as part of Project Safe Childhood, a 2006 nationwide initiative to combat child exploitation. Over the past year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan prosecuted over a dozen child sexual exploitation cases. Those cases included, for example, a 29-year-old man in Lansing who befriended a 15-year-old girl from the west coast online and coerced and enticed her into sending sexually explicit photographs daily for three years; a man in Grandville who drilled holes in the wall of his 12-year-old stepdaughter’s bedroom to video record her naked; a man who traveled from Las Vegas to Kalamazoo to sexually assault a nine-year-old boy while another man took pictures; and a pair of brothers who produced child pornography of sleeping children in Kent County and elsewhere in Michigan and traded the pictures with each other over email.
"My office has placed prosecuting sex traffickers and others who exploit minors as a high priority," U.S. Attorney Miles advised. "The facts of these cases shock the conscience and are hard to think about. But the victims are real children who have to deal with the repercussions for the rest of their lives after being targeted, exploited, and victimized. The reality is that the internet and cell phones have made it easier and more anonymous for people to find, communicate with, and exploit minors and harder for parents to find out."
To learn more about keeping kids safe from predators online, view this short video from the DOJ: https://www.justice.gov/psc/video/sextortion-public-service-announcement-90-seconds