Ingham County Child Sex Trafficking Ring Busted
GRAND RAPIDS, MI—The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, and the Lansing Police Department announced today that three people have been charged and arrested with operating a child sex trafficking ring in Lansing, Michigan. A federal grand jury for the Western District of Michigan indicted Christopher T. Bryant, 24, of Detroit on five counts, including sex trafficking of minors; sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; and interstate transportation for the purposes of prostitution. The Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office charged Mariah Haughton, 17, and Jonathan Purnell, 27, both of Lansing, for sex trafficking girls in the same ring.
The federal indictment charges Bryant with sex trafficking three minors—including one by force, fraud, or coercion—in Ingham County and elsewhere from March through July 2014. It also charges Bryant with transporting another person from Michigan to Arizona in August 2012 for prostitution, and then sex trafficking the same person by force, fraud, or coercion in early September of that year.
The Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office charged Haughton on multiple counts, including human trafficking by recruiting minors for child sexually abusive activity. Although Haughton is only 17 years old, a federal search warrant indicates that Haughton was active in recruiting and trafficking girls for commercial sex. Purnell was arrested today in Ingham County on similar charges.
The FBI alleges in a federal search warrant application that Bryant, Haughton, and Purnell recruited minors and advertised them online to solicit sex for money. The search warrant alleges that the ring operated out of an apartment and various motels around Lansing. Allegedly, Bryant, Haughton, and Purnell provided the minors with alcohol and drugs and profited from the enterprise.
This is the second child sex trafficking case to be charged federally in the Western District of Michigan. The first federal case in this district was against Eddie Allen Jackson in April 2014 for sex trafficking three girls ages 14, 15, and 16 in Grand Rapids. Jackson was sentenced earlier this month to 30 years in federal prison.
“The crime of child sex trafficking is not new, but it is growing in part because the Internet makes it easy to advertise sex anonymously. People selling children into commercial sex feel as though they cannot be found or traced, which is not the case. Awareness of the issue of human trafficking is spreading rapidly throughout West Michigan, and I am pleased local, state, and federal authorities are working together effectively to locate and stop alleged sex traffickers,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick A. Miles, Jr.
“Trafficking children for sexual exploitation is a horrific crime, and one which we are dedicated to fighting against relentlessly,” said Paul M. Abbate, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Detroit Field Office. “The FBI, in concert with its local, state and federal partners, remains steadfast in its resolve to protect the innocence of our children. Offenders like the perpetrators in this investigation must know that law enforcement will stop at nothing, and use every resource available, to fight for the interests of our young people and bring justice to bear upon those seeking to exploit their vulnerabilities.”
“I’m proud of the men and women of the Lansing Police Department who were a part of this extensive investigation. Working and collaborating on investigating crime with other jurisdictions, from Federal to the State level, has always been a success,” said Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski.
“This insidious crime has been made much easier due to the Internet. I am proud to say that our investigators—City, County, and Federal—put together a great team that was able to meet the challenge and make the appropriate arrests. We all need to continue vigilance, however, especially parents need to monitor their children’s Internet use and report suspicious activity,” said Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth.
The federal case, which is part of Project Safe Childhood—a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from exploitation and abuse—is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Tessa K. Hessmiller and Russell A. Kavalhuna. The U.S. Attorney’s Office; county prosecutor’s offices; the Internet Crimes Against Children task force (ICAC); and federal, state, and local law enforcement are working closely together to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children. The partners in Project Safe Childhood work to educate communities about the dangers of online child exploitation and to teach children how to protect themselves. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. Individuals with information or concerns about possible child exploitation should contact local law enforcement.
The charges in an indictment are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.