GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Two men have been charged with prostituting teenage girls in Kent and Muskegon counties, some of whom were plied with drugs and alcohol "to facilitate commercial sex acts.''
Girls between the ages of 15 and 17 turned tricks at homes and motels, according to a 13-page federal indictment filed this week in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
Richardo Leodoro Urbina, 57, and Francisco Miguel Soto, 19, face numerous charges, including sex trafficking and distribution of cocaine.
The sex trafficking began in May, 2015 and ran through Sept. 2017, court records show. Seven girls are listed as victims.
Investigators say the men befriended, recruited and enticed the girls into commercial sex acts. They also arranged commercial sex acts with paying customers using the Internet and cell phones.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tessa Hessmiller says at least 10 defendants have been prosecuted in federal court for human sex trafficking in western Michigan in the last four years.
“There’s been approximately 30 victims associated with those cases between the ages of about 14 and 30,’’ Hessmiller said. “All of whom are born and raised here in Michigan.’’
In the most recent case, the teenaged girls were provided with housing, food, drugs, alcohol, clothing, cash, and condoms “to facilitate the commercial sex acts,’’ according to the indictment.
Urbina was initially charged in early March. A superseding indictment was filed in April listing Soto as a co-defendant. More charges appeared in a second superseding indictment filed this week. Both have federal court appearances set for May 14 in Grand Rapids.
The most serious charge, sex trafficking by force, threats of force, fraud and coercion, is punishable by not less than 15 years and up to life in prison.
“Wherever there are people, there is a market for sex,’’ Hessmiller said. “And where there’s a market for sex, there’s a market for coercion and getting children to participate in the sex industry.’’
Vulnerable young people, she said, are a prime target for traffickers.
“It’s about targeting vulnerable young people, manipulating them and controlling them,’’ Hessmiller said. “So, things that make young people vulnerable to becoming targets of human trafficking are things like poverty, abusive homes that they are running away from and low self-esteem.’’
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