Three charged for human trafficking in Grand Forks
Two men and a woman face human trafficking charges in state district court in Grand Forks in what prosecutors say was an operation pimping out a 17-year-old girl to older johns.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The case is unusual in that prostitution involving adults has been seen only a few times in more than 40 years in the community. A case of an underage prostitute is unknown.
"It's the first one involving a minor I have ever seen," said Jason McCarthy, assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County who has been working the case for some time. Meredith Larson, an assistant state's attorney, also is working the case but was not in the office Monday.
Possible life in prison
Travis Johnson, 29, Joshua Harry, 27, and Amanda Stewart, 22, each face a charge of human trafficking, alleging they persuaded a 17-year-old girl to engage in sexual acts with men in "shows" the three set up from November 2010 to April 2011. According to investigative affidavits, they allegedly advertised an "escort service" using photos via a controversial website, www.backpages.com.
Under state law, "human trafficking," defined broadly as several ways of facilitating another's sexual performance or acts, of anyone younger than 18 is a "Double A" felony with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Johnson also faces a Class C felony charge of corruption of a minor for allegedly having sex with the girl when she was 17.
Both Johnson and Harry have records of felony crimes in Grand Forks.
Harry made an initial appearance Aug. 9 in state district court in Grand Forks on the human trafficking charge. He remains in the Grand Forks County jail awaiting a preliminary hearing set for Oct. 3 and an arraignment on Nov. 14.
Grand Forks attorney Pat Rosenquist, who represents Harry on previous felony charges, said Monday he just learned he had been appointed on this case and hadn't seen the paperwork yet.
Arrest warrants were issued last week for Johnson and Stewart, who are expected to appear in court soon. Johnson is serving a state prison sentence in the regional jail in Rugby, N.D., on previous felonies. Stewart lives in south Grand Forks.
More charges involving more people could be coming in what is an open investigation, McCarthy said Monday.
The consequences for pimping a juvenile can be dire. On Monday a federal judge in Bismarck sentenced a New Town, N.D., man to 45 years in prison in a human trafficking and drug ring case. In June a Twin Cities man was sentenced to 21 years in prison for prostituting a 17-year-old in a hotel room.
Investigators: Girl talked
According to the affidavit of probable cause, in November or December 2010, Travis Levar Johnson, now 29, "asked his friend (identified only by initials)" who was 17, "if she wanted to make some money."
She said yes, so Johnson asked if she would be "willing to sleep with a 60-year-old man for like $600?"
He also asked if she was 18. No, she said, 17. Johnson then called a woman to discuss the age issue, and told the juvenile girl it was all OK.
But the girl demurred, until she contacted Johnson "a couple of months later and expressed interest."
Johnson met with her, saying he would need to "test the goods and see if she was good enough for it." After he cajoled her, she agreed and the two "engaged in sexual acts" in a Grand Forks apartment. Johnson then took photos of her with his cell phone while she was topless, with her pants unzipped. He also showed her photos of other nude women on the same website where she saw her own photo posted, the juvenile told investigators. Investigators said the girl lives in Grand Forks County.
In an interview with investigators on June 6 of this year, Johnson admitted to engaging in a sexual act with the girl, knowing she was 17, according to the affidavit. He said because she had told him she was "emancipated," or legally an adult, it was legal.
In early 2011, Johnson introduced the girl to Harry and Stewart in the parking lot of Red Ray Lanes. Amanda Stewart told the girl "she would be doing a 'show' and they brought her to an apartment to change clothes."
They then took her to an apartment on North 39th Street, where Stewart introduced her as "Jamie" to a man who gave Stewart about $350. Stewart left to wait in a vehicle with Harry until the girl returned. She told Harry and Stewart she engaged in "some sexual contact" with the man at his request and left after about an hour. Harry and Stewart asked if she made any more money and gave her $170.
In late March or early April 2011, Harry and Stewart drove the juvenile girl to the Grand Forks home of a man named Mike. Again, Stewart took money up front, $200 to $350, prosecutors allege.
"Mike requests and receives sexual acts from (the girl) and paid (her) approximately $80 for such acts," according to the investigator.
One man charged
Michael Delmore, 60, was charged last week with one count of hiring someone to engage in sexual activity, a Class B misdemeanor for the alleged encounter with the juvenile. An arrest warrant for Delmore was issued last Wednesday.
The charge alleges Delmore contacted Harry -- and ultimately the juvenile -- through an escort service he saw in an ad on the website, www.backpages.com.
It's a controversial site opposed by prosecutors and others in several cities, including New York and the Twin Cities because it posts ads that allegedly facilitate human trafficking of juveniles.
The girl also told investigators of three or more other "shows" set up by Harry, Johnson and Stewart with men at motels in Grand Forks. Apparently because the men have not been identified, none of them have been charged.
The girl told investigators Harry ran the operation, handled the calls, the escort service and provided her with condoms for doing shows.