After two months in hiding, a key figure in a sex-trafficking and drug-peddling investigation is due in federal court today on charges he drugged women at a dingy Detroit motel known as the Victory Inn and forced them to work as prostitutes against their will.
The suspect is no stranger to law enforcement, however, as he has seven prior convictions. And he didn't act alone, says the federal government, noting there are three men still wanted, including the alleged ringleader, for running a human-trafficking operation that was busted in a January raid at the Michigan Avenue motel at the Detroit-Dearborn border.
Since the raid, the hotel, which advertised rooms for $49.95 a night, has been shuttered by a judge and three men have been arrested.
The most recent man ensnared in the probe is Shelvie "Q" Avery, 50, who was arrested in Detroit on Friday by federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations and local police. They had been looking for Avery since the Jan. 12 raid, when they learned that Avery slipped out of room 214 at the hotel about 5:40 a.m., just before more than 100 federal agents and local police swarmed the place, according to court documents.
"Law enforcement discovered extensive evidence of drug use and distribution inside room 214," Homeland Security Investigations agent Jeremy Forys wrote in a criminal complaint. He also wrote that a review of Victory Inn's security video recordings also showed "hundreds of apparent drug transactions and widespread prostitution, and Avery being involved in both activities."
According to the criminal complaint, following the raid, federal agents interviewed several human-trafficking victims, who "confirmed widespread and ongoing prostitution and drug distribution from the Victory Inn," and said that Avery and others were involved in the criminal operation, which fed drug-addicted prostitutes with heroin, cocaine and Xanax.
Authorities also seized used needles, baggies, at least one loaded gun, cocaine and dozens of cell phones during the raid.
According to Detroit police, the Victory Inn, which is flanked by a topless club and an adult bookstore, had been a longtime problem. Last year alone, Detroit police made 115 runs to the motel, which saw two shootings, numerous aggravated assaults, robberies and two homicides in which the victims were traced back to the Victory Inn.
The Victory Inn landed on the federal government's radar in September, when Homeland Security Investigations received a tip about a possible human-trafficking victim being treated at Detroit Receiving's emergency department for a heroin overdose. That victim ended up telling law enforcement that she had been carrying the heroin for a man known to her as "Tone," and that he was a drug dealer and a pimp who forced women to prostitute themselves at the Victory Inn hotel, court documents show.
The Detroit and Taylor police departments helped federal agents piece the case together, conducting more interviews with victims, confidential informants and others. Along the way, authorities learned about one victim who died Dec. 26 after purchasing drugs at the Victory Inn.
More surveillance of the Victory Inn followed. Then came the Jan. 12 raid, which the federal government says "effectively ended a broad range of alleged criminal activity."
"The support following our action from the community has been overwhelming, which as a law enforcement community we are very grateful for,” said Steve Francis, acting special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. ordered the Victory Inn closed on Jan. 27.
According to court documents, a confidential informant told federal authorities that they believed Victory Inn management was aware of the illegal activity at the hotel, and that a woman presumed to be the owner had private conversations with Avery, described as the "main drug dealer" in the operation. He sold "cocaine, heroin and girls," the complaint said, and got his drugs from an individual known as "Tone."
"Tone" remains missing.