Battle Creek Man Known As "Rodeo Loco" Sentenced To Life Imprisonment For Sexually Exploiting Three High School Girls
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff sentenced Michael Clayton (a.k.a. "Rodeo Loco") to life in prison for sexually exploiting three girls, each about half Clayton’s age. The sentence follows a three-day trial, where a jury found Clayton guilty of being a felon in possession of firearms, conspiring to distribute cocaine, producing child pornography involving the three girls, and forcing one of them to engage in prostitution. Judge Neff remarked, "this was a horrendous, drug-fueled, weapon-heavy nightmare…. We really do need to protect the public from further crimes of this man."
The Battle Creek Police Department (BCPD) became aware of Clayton’s exploitation when they received a call on October 5, 2017, informing them Clayton was holding a 16-year-old girl against her will. Police reported to Clayton’s residence around 9:30 pm. Clayton initially told police there were no females at the house, but they found the 16-year-old girl in the unlit basement:
After interviewing the girl, police learned Clayton forced her into the basement to avoid police detection. She originally met Clayton a few weeks earlier, when he invited her to party, gave her cocaine, and expected her to have sex with him as payment for the cocaine. Clayton continued providing her cocaine and demanding sex, and he frequently recorded and saved videos of those sex acts. When BCPD and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed search warrants for Claytons SnapChat account and iPhone, they uncovered over 20 videos of Clayton engaging in sex acts with the 16-year-old, as well as approximately 10 more videos involving a 15 and 17-year-old.
Those search warrants also revealed videos of Clayton with cocaine and guns:
Clayton used the proceeds of his illegal drug sales to promote a business he called Zombie Lifestyle. Police seized this car in association with the case:
The 16-year-old girl also told BCPD that Clayton and his co-defendant, Ramiro Hernandez, pushed her to have sex for money about a week before BCPD found her. Clayton and Hernandez arranged that sex date with someone she did not know, and Clayton kept all of the money. Hernandez pled guilty to sex trafficking the 16-year-old, testified against Clayton at trial, and received a 10-year sentence from Judge Neff.
"This sentencing highlights HSI's commitment to aggressively investigate human trafficking crimes by protecting victims and bringing traffickers to justice," said HSI Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis. "HSI will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to dismantle these vile trafficking networks that prey on the vulnerable members of our community."
This case is part of the Project Safe Neighborhood initiative, and it was investigated by BCPD and HSI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Davin M. Reust and Daniel Y. Mekaru prosecuted it.