Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office Continues Fight Against Human Trafficking
Recognizes January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Baltimore, MD (STL.News) January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. As a founding member of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office pledges to continue to combat human trafficking by working with our partners to investigate and prosecute traffickers and rescue victims. The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force is a collaborative effort of trafficking survivors, social workers, community organizers, medical professionals, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and citizen volunteers dedicated to eradicating human trafficking and providing support, treatment, and resources for human trafficking survivors. Our communities, including the vulnerable victims who are the targets of traffickers, benefit greatly from awareness of the types of human trafficking; indicators of human trafficking; and resources available to survivors of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is defined as using force, fraud, or coercion to obtain labor or engage in commercial sex acts. Often, traffickers make false promises of a job or pose as benefactors to lure their victims and force them into human trafficking. Although human trafficking is usually associated with commercial sex, labor trafficking is just as prominent. Forced labor is a category of human trafficking in which individuals are coerced into legitimate and illegitimate industries, including domestic service, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and manufacturing sweatshops. According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking is now the second highest grossing criminal enterprise, with more than $150.2 billion per year earned from the use of forced labor.
Human trafficking has many faces. Victims can be of any age, race, gender, nationality, and come from any socioeconomic group. Human traffickers often target the most vulnerable, including individuals who suffer from disenfranchisement, social exclusion, or economic vulnerability (including individuals who have a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, reside in an unstable living situation, and youths in foster care or the juvenile justice system). Foreign-born individuals face unique challenges, such as language barriers and economic instability, leaving them at the mercy of their traffickers.
Maryland is not exempt from the horrors of human trafficking. The close proximity between areas of affluence and poverty, a substantial immigrant population, and other factors create favorable conditions for human traffickers (and their customers) to exploit the vulnerable—including children, recent immigrants, the drug-addicted, and those facing housing instability. Maryland’s central location on the Eastern Seaboard makes it both a pass-through state and a destination for human traffickers. The Interstate 95 corridor’s numerous hotels, rest stops, truck stops, and bus stations are prime locations for traffickers to exploit their victims. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 187 instances of human trafficking in Maryland were reported to the Hotline through 2019, the most recent year with statistics.
An effective way to combat human trafficking is to connect with fellow community members and look for key signals and indicators. Common indicators that a person could be a victim of human trafficking include (but are not limited to) a disconnection from social groups, dangerous or unsuitable living conditions, bruises in various stages of healing, and apparent coaching on what to say in response to questions. Other ways to combat human trafficking are by attacking the conditions that lead to trafficking, such as poverty, addiction, and homelessness; educating yourself and others on trafficking indicators; and reporting suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888)-373-7888. You can also Text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. Visit the Department of Homeland Security and Investigation’s Blue Campaign for more indicators of human trafficking.
Federal Prosecution of Human Trafficking Cases – Examples in 2020
United States v. Sirron Little: On September 30, 2020, a federal grand jury returned a four-count superseding indictment charging Sirron Little, age 29, of Washington, D.C., with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor and related charges. The superseding indictment alleges, among other things, that Little used violence and threats of violence to coerce the victim to engage in prostitution in Prince George’s County, Maryland. If convicted, Little faces up to life in prison for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor; a mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison for sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud, and coercion; a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison for coercion and enticement of a minor; and a maximum of 10 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm. An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States v. Kenneth Hart: Kenneth Wayne Hart, a/k/a Redds, Wayne Hawkins, Hawk, Big Daddy, Billy Reds, and Bill Red Hart, age 59, of Beltsville, Maryland, was sentenced on October 7, 2020 to 25 years in federal prison, followed by 20 years of supervised release, on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics; a sex trafficking conspiracy; two counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion; and witness tampering. Hart was convicted of those charges on March 12, 2020, after a seven-day jury trial. According to the evidence presented at trial, from December 2016 to April 2017, Hart and a co-conspirator ran a prostitution business. Hart recruited women to work in the prostitution business and supplied the victims with heroin and crack cocaine on a daily basis. Hart threatened to withhold—and did withhold—the narcotics if the victims displayed any sign of disobedience or tried to leave the locations where the commercial sex acts occurred.
In order to maintain control over the women he recruited to prostitute, Hart demanded that the women surrender to him their personal belongings, including identification cards, credit cards, cash, clothing, and cellular phones, and confiscated their earnings from the commercial sex acts. As detailed in trial testimony, Hart installed a padlock on the bedroom door of a condominium Hart used for the prostitution business, and locked the victims in the room for hours or days at a time, using a daily combination of heroin and crack cocaine to control and coerce the victims. Hart also used physical force, threatened physical force, and verbally abused the victims to force them to engage in prostitution against their will. Even if the door to the bedroom was left open, the victims feared leaving the room and the condominium because they believed that Hart would find them no matter where they went, and that Hart would punish them for trying to leave him.
United States v. Aaron Crawford: On November 2, 2020, a federal grand jury returned a four-count superseding indictment charging Aaron Crawford, age 35, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, with coercion and enticement of a minor, production of child pornography, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion. The superseding indictment alleges that Crawford trafficked two different minor victims in Prince George’s County, Maryland. If convicted, Crawford faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life imprisonment for coercion and enticement of a minor and for sex trafficking of a minor; a mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison for sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion; and a mandatory minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison for production of child pornography. An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States v. Dominique Bell: On November 18, 2020, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Dominique Bell, age 29, of Washington, D.C., with sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, and with coercion and enticement. If convicted, Bell faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison; and a maximum of 20 years in prison for coercion and enticement. The alleged conduct occurred in Prince George’s County. An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States v. Ryan Odell Oliver: Ryan Odell Oliver, a/k/a Dre, Fame, and Foreign, age 38, of Baltimore, Maryland, was indicted on December 2, 2020, on federal charges for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking; conspiracy related to interstate prostitution and interstate transportation for prostitution; enticement to travel interstate for the purposes of prostitution; and possession of ammunition by a felon. According to the 10-count indictment, from at least July 2018 through January 2019, Oliver and a co-conspirator recruited, transported, maintained, and trafficked two adult women, Victim 1 and Victim 2, using threats, force, and coercion to cause those victims to engage in commercial sex acts. Oliver and the co-conspirator (who died in March 2019) allegedly received money and other things of value by having the women engage in commercial sex acts. From January 2018 through August 2018, the indictment alleges that Oliver also caused Victim 3 to engage in commercial sex acts, for which Oliver received money and other things of value. At some point during the conspiracy Oliver allegedly physically assaulted all three of the victims, including forced sexual intercourse or other sex acts, striking them with his hands, choking them, and displaying a firearm to them.
The indictment further alleges that Oliver illegally possessed 59 cartridges of 9mm and 7.62 x 39mm ammunition, which Oliver knew he was prohibited from possessing due to a previous felony conviction. If convicted, Oliver faces a maximum sentence of life in federal prison for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; a mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to life in federal prison for each count of sex trafficking; and a maximum of five years in federal prison for conspiracy related to interstate prostitution. He also faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for each count of two counts of interstate transportation for prostitution, for each of two counts of enticement to travel interstate for the purposes of prostitution, and for being a felon in possession of ammunition. An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States v. Robert Diienno: Robert Carl Diienno, age 32, formerly of Laurel, Maryland, was sentenced on December 8, 2020, to two years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for enticing three victims to travel in interstate commerce for the purposes of prostitution. According to his plea agreement, from at least November 2016 through June 2017, Diienno acted as a pimp for Victim 1, and at other times for Victims 2 and 3, who were all adult women. During that time, Diienno persuaded, enticed, induced, and coerced the victims to engage in a prostitution enterprise that included travel along the Southeastern Seaboard. Diienno and the victims resided at a residence in Laurel, which was used as a group home and the base of the enterprise. “Meeting minutes” recovered from the house identify the location as “Duh ho house,” and include attendance at the meeting; a report on potential new recruits; and the “Comptroller’s Report” showing the amount earned by each of the victims related to their prostitution activities. Law enforcement also recovered documents titled, “ho Training Manual,” “ho Rules,” and “Pimp/ho Contract.” The documents stated requirements that a “ho” submits to the control of the “Pimp,” including accepting any punishment the Pimp decides to inflict, with certain limitations, such as punishment must not incur permanent bodily harm, and must stop immediately if blood is drawn, among others. On June 1, 2017, Laurel Police Department was called to the residence for a disturbance at that location. Victim 1 and Victim 3 were found hiding in a nearby treeline and reported that Diienno had assaulted Victim 1 when she refused to walk the streets. Diienno was arrested. During the subsequent investigation, two firearms belonging to Diienno were recovered from the Laurel residence.
Federal Grant Funding
On August 4, 2020, U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur announced that Maryland received $999,990 from the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs and its component, the Office for Victims of Crime, to provide safe, stable housing and appropriate services to victims of human trafficking. The grant, awarded to the Salvation Army and the University of Maryland SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors, will provide six to 24 months of transitional or short-term housing assistance for trafficking victims, including rental, utilities or related expenses, such as security deposits and relocation costs. The grant will also provide funding for support needed to help victims locate permanent housing, secure employment, as well as occupational training and counseling. The Salvation Army and the University of Maryland SAFE Center were among 73 organizations nationwide receiving more than $35 million in OVC grants to support housing services for human trafficking survivors.
On October 7, 2020, U.S. Attorney Hur announced $1,047,593 in Department of Justice grants to Howard County to assist human trafficking victims in Maryland. Howard County received the funds to support their collaborative task force to end human trafficking and to provide services to victims of this terrible crime.
In 2020, despite COVID-19 concerns forcing the cancellation of the Human Trafficking Investigators Seminar, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners conducted seven training events for law enforcement and other professionals fighting human trafficking, training a total of 429 individuals.
So far in 2021, during Human Trafficking Awareness Month the U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting the annual Maryland Human Trafficking Professionals Seminar (MHTPS) virtually, providing training to 123 individuals, including victim advocates, mental health professionals, local, state, and federal law enforcement, and prosecutors, with additional MHTPS events scheduled in the upcoming months.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland has deployed many resources in the fight against human trafficking and we will continue to make the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases a priority.