Six Charged in Largest Domestic Human Sex Trafficking Case in Houston
|U.S. Attorney’s Office August 25, 2009|
HOUSTON—Five men and one woman have been charged in a 16-count indictment with conspiracy and sex trafficking of children and forcing and coercing adults to engage in commercial sex acts, United States Attorney Tim Johnson, Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division Lannie A. Breuer, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Special Agent-in-Charge Richard C. Powers of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, and Houston Chief of Police Harold Hurtt announced today. This case represents the single largest domestic sex trafficking case in the history of the Southern District of Texas.
“It is a horrible reflection on our society when adults prey on the vulnerabilities of children and reduce them to indentured sex slaves,” Johnson said. “Whenever and wherever offenses of such a depraved nature occur, our law enforcement community will respond with the sum of our collective prosecutorial resources.”
“The protection of the innocent and the most vulnerable among us is one of the most important obligations of law enforcement,” said Breuer. “Sex trafficking, especially the trafficking of children, is unconscionable and federal law enforcement is working closely with state and local authorities to fight this most reprehensible sort of exploitation.”
Five of the six defendants were arrested late Monday, Aug. 24 and early Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009, in a coordinated effort between federal and local law enforcement with warrants that issued following the return of a sealed indictment by a Houston grand jury on Aug, 4, 2009. The indictment, which was unsealed today, charges John Butler, 47, William Hornbeak, 34, Jamine Lake, 27, Andre McDaniels, 39, Kristen Land, 28, all of Houston, and Ronnie Presley, 35, formerly of Houston and currently residing in Tulsa, Okla., with conspiracy to traffic women and children for the purposes of commercialized sex; sex trafficking of children; sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion; transportation of minors; transportation; and coercion and enticement. Upon conviction, each count of sex trafficking and transportation of minors carries a maximum of life in prison. Each count of transportation carries up to 10 years in prison, while coercion and enticement carries up to 20 years in prison, while conspiracy carries up to five years in prison. All charges carry up to a $250,000 fine.
Butler, Hornbeak, Lake, McDaniels and Land were arrested in Houston. At least one defendant—McDaniels—is expected to make an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley at 2:00 p.m. today. The United States will ask the court to continue to hold McDaniels and the other defendants in federal custody without bond pending trial. A warrant remains outstanding for the arrest of Presley. Anyone having information regarding his whereabouts is asked to contact their local office of the FBI or the FBI Houston Field office at (713) 693-5000. (UPDATE: Acting on tip information, agents of the FBI - Muskogee Resident Agency and officers of the Muskogee Police Department’s Tactical Team arrested Ronnie Pressley without incident on August 28, 2009 at 12:45 p.m. at a residence located on the 1600 block of Beaver Road in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Pressley is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Muskogee and ordered removed to the Southern District of Texas to face the charges pending against him in this district.)
According to the unsealed indictment, the defendants operated commercialized sex businesses often disguised as modeling studios, health spas, massage parlors, and bikini bars in Houston, and employed sexually oriented publications and websites to advertise their illicit business. The criminal enterprise transported women and minors to and from the Houston area and had ties to Kansas, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida. Women and minors as young as 16 were enticed and coerced into prostitution and were routinely beaten and threatened. The defendants allegedly collected any proceeds the women and minors received as a result of “dates” rendering them dependent upon the defendants for basic necessities.
“The defendants are charged with transporting and threatening young women with violence in order to force them into prostitution,” Abbott said. “A concerted, cooperative effort by state and federal law enforcement is cracking down on the horrific crime of human trafficking—and those who profit from it.”
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the Innocence Lost Task Force of the FBI and the Houston Police Department as part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative. A joint effort of the FBI, the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the initiative was founded in June 2003 to address criminal enterprises involved in the domestic sex trafficking of children. At least one minor was rescued during the course of the investigation leading to the indictment. Other minors and several adults have been returned to their families.
“From low-tech methods such as prostituting minors at truck stops, to high-tech methods such as internet advertising, our children are being used as commodities for sale or trade,” Powers said. “Here in Houston we have established unprecedented cooperation among law enforcement agencies that are working together to link cases, make arrests and rescue children being sold on our streets. We will not allow our city to be a safe haven for this unconscionable activity. If you hear about it, if you suspect it, report it."
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack for the Southern District of Texas, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Goodwin for the Southern District of Texas and the Texas Attorney General’s Office and Trial Attorney Michael Yoon of the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.