Two Odenton Men Plead Guilty in Scheme to Force Women into Prostitution
BALTIMORE, MD—Robert Downing, a/k/a “Luck,” and “Shamrock,” age 46, and Michael Wesley Lee, a/k/a “King,” or “King P,” age 31, both of Odenton, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to use of an interstate facility to promote a prostitution business. Lee also pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit sex trafficking by force and fraud.
The guilty pleas were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare.
According to their plea agreements, from at least 2012 to his arrest in August 2013, Lee was a pimp who used social media websites to entice females to prostitute for him. Downing worked for Lee. The defendants used the Internet to recruit women to work as prostitutes, and to advertise sex services. The defendants rented hotel rooms to house the women and to serve as a place to prostitute, which they paid for with prepaid gift and debit cards.
More specifically, after Lee had transported a female, “J,” from New York to prostitute in Maryland, on February 23, 2013, Lee and Downing accompanied “J” to a casino in Anne Arundel County. The defendants are seen on video cameras watching “J” unsuccessfully solicit prostitution customers in the casino. At some point, Downing left the casino; and later, Lee and “J” also left. The two walked to Lee’s car in the casino’s garage. Video cameras recorded Lee yelling and scolding the woman, and then striking her head repeatedly with a closed fist. Lee grabbed her by the hair and ripped off her wig, and violently shoved her when she tried to shield her body against the car. Police arrived and arrested Lee. Downing arrived at the scene and took “J” back to his home. On February 25th, Downing drove “J” to a local hotel so that she could earn money by prostituting—money that would help pay Lee’s bail. “J” escaped when Downing left briefly. Ultimately, “J” refused to press charges, and the assault charges were dismissed against Lee a few months later.
Also in August 2013, Lee used a social media website to lure a woman, “S,” from St. Louis, Missouri to Baltimore to prostitute. Lee bought a bus ticket for “S,” who arrived in Baltimore on August 10. When Lee picked her up at the bus station, he told her that he was a pimp. He took “S” to a hotel in Linthicum Heights, Maryland and demanded her identification card. “S” was intimidated by Lee’s size and demeanor, so she gave him her identification card and worked as a prostitute. Lee told her that she needed to reimburse him for the bus ticket and that she had to pay a $1,000 initiation fee. He transported “S” from Maryland to New Jersey to prostitute. After two weeks of working for Lee as a prostitute, “S”, who wanted to get away, called an ambulance on August 26, 2013, regarding pain she was having in her vaginal area, and reported her situation to the EMTs upon their arrival. Lee was arrested that day.
In August 2013, Lee tried to persuade “M,” an exotic dancer in Baltimore, to prostitute for him. “M” agreed to meet Lee at a hotel room believing that she was going to dance at a private party. When Lee attempted to prostitute her, she tried to leave the room, but Lee stopped her. Subsequently, “M” overheard Lee on the phone with a man who Lee said was from Florida and was driving up to meet “M.” “M” became scared about being made to have sex or being taken out of state. “M” contacted her friends by text message and her father ultimately called 911. At the same time, “M” devised a plan whereby she told Lee she was thirsty. When Lee gave her money to get a soda in a nearby vending machine, “M” began running away from the hotel. She heard Lee running behind her. Lee chased her until she was able to hop a fence behind the hotel. By the time the police arrived at the hotel as a result of the 911 call, “M” was already safe.
After Lee was arrested on August 26, 2013, Downing began pimping “MS” for Lee while Lee was in jail. Lee had previously lured “MS” to engage in prostitution and had transported her to Ocean City to prostitute. At the time of Lee’s arrest, “MS” was in the hospital being treated for a serious medical condition. Downing picked “MS” up from the hospital upon her discharge in September and immediately installed her at a hotel. “MS” and Downing traveled to New York and New Jersey so that “MS” could prostitute. At times, Downing drove “MS” to methadone clinics for treatment.
As part of his plea to sex trafficking by force, Lee must register as a sex offender in the place where he resides and where he is an employee under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).
The defendants and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement, Lee will be sentenced to 13 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release, and Downing will be sentenced to 46 months in prison. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for March 30, 2015.
The case was investigated by the FBI-led Maryland Child Exploitation Task Force (MCETF), created in 2010 to combat child prostitution, with members from10 state and federal law enforcement agencies. The Task Force coordinates with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Maryland State Police Child Recovery Unit to identify missing children being advertised online for prostitution.
MCETF partners with the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, formed in 2007 to discover and rescue victims of human trafficking while identifying and prosecuting offenders. Members include federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as victim service providers and local community members. For more information about the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, please visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/md/priorities_human.html.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI and the Anne Arundel County Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra Wilkinson and Patricia A. McLane, who are prosecuting the case.