Sex Trafficking Scheme Used Threats, Violence and Coercion to Compel Women into Prostitution in New Orleans and Elsewhere
Additional defendants were sentenced today for their respective roles in a sex trafficking scheme operated out of the Riviera Motel in New Orleans, which compelled multiple women to engage in prostitution in New Orleans and elsewhere, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Duane Phillips, 31, was sentenced to 251 months in prison; Anthony Ellis, 27, was sentenced to 15 years in prison; and Zacchaeus Taylor, 23, was sentenced to 99 months in prison. Phillips, Ellis and Taylor are all from Memphis, Tennessee. Restitution for the victims will be determined at a separate hearing on July 13, 2016.
On April 20, 2015, Phillips and Ellis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion. Ellis also pleaded guilty to interstate transportation for prostitution. On June 25, 2014, Taylor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking and to interstate transportation for prostitution.
“People who engage in human trafficking violate the most basic standards of human decency,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “The Civil Rights Division is unwavering in our commitment to seeking justice on behalf of vulnerable individuals and to holding human traffickers accountable.”
“Ending human trafficking is a critical priority in this district,” said U.S. Attorney Polite. “The lengthy sentences imposed today should stand as a warning to would-be traffickers that we are investing considerable federal resources into combating this criminality.”
“Today’s sentencing of these four defendants brings an end to their mistreatment and abuse of women,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI’s New Orleans Division. “The FBI Child Exploitation/Human Trafficking Task Force, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, HSI and our other state and local partners, will continue to investigate and bring justice for all victims of human trafficking throughout Louisiana.”
“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that ICE Homeland Security Investigations fights as one of its highest priorities via a coordinated global effort with the FBI and our state and local law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer Jr. of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) New Orleans. “The results speak for themselves: over the past two years HSI has doubled its number of human trafficking arrests. HSI will continue to investigate and seek prosecution of these criminals while also ensuring the victims of this terrible crime are rescued and get the care they need.”
During their respective plea hearings and in their respective court filings, Phillips and Ellis admitted that they, along with their co-defendants Granville Robinson, Christopher Williams and Laquentin Brown, conspired to recruit, groom, force, compel and coerce adult women to engage in prostitution, enforcing rules and means of control that included requiring the women to earn a certain amount of money each day, requiring them to turn over the proceeds and prohibiting them from speaking to or looking at other pimps. To enforce the rules, Phillips, Ellis and another defendant each admitted that they and their co-conspirators used a variety of punishments, including withholding food and forcing the victims to engage in additional commercial sex acts, as well as physical assaults. Phillips and Ellis each admitted that they and their co-conspirators consulted one another on means of furthering their pimping activities and would monitor each other’s victims when a co-conspirator was incarcerated. The defendants also admitted that they brought women to other cities, including Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, for coerced prostitution.
According to his plea agreement, Taylor, who was charged separately, admitted that he met Phillips in 2012 and agreed to become Phillips’ protégé. After learning the strict rules that Phillips, Ellis and others used to force and coerce women to engage in prostitution, Taylor began applying the rules himself. Like his co-conspirators, he kept the identification cards of the women in order to keep them from leaving. On several occasions, Taylor physically assaulted a woman because she did not earn enough money by engaging in commercial sex acts. He also kept the money that the women earned, and if a woman did not earn enough money, he would order her to continue until she had. Taylor also admitted that he brought an adult woman from Memphis to New Orleans and elsewhere for the purpose of forcing and coercing her to engage in prostitution. The co-conspirators operated out of certain motels, including the Riviera, which generally did not report their activities to the police. The defendants rented multiple rooms at the Riviera where the women would meet prostitution clients and paid higher rates for the rooms because of the increased traffic.
Former Riviera Motel owner, Kanubhai Patel, 75, of Kenner, Louisiana, was also sentenced today to five years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. On July 1, 2015, Patel pleaded guilty to benefitting financially from human trafficking. Robinson was sentenced to 294 months in prison on May 4, 2016. He previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking.
Williams and Brown have also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, and are awaiting sentencing.
On Oct. 3, 2014, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Louisiana returned a second superseding indictment charging Phillips and Ellis, along with Robinson, Brown and Williams, with sex trafficking conspiracy and varying counts of sex trafficking and transportation for prostitution. The second superseding indictment also charged Patel. Taylor was charged separately on March 28, 2014.
This case was investigated jointly by the FBI’s New Orleans Division and HSI’s New Orleans Field Office, with assistance from the FBI’s Memphis Division. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.