A 17-year-old girl who responded to a Facebook message saying she was pretty and could make money told police that she ended up being forced to give oral sex at knifepoint and coerced into having sex with 14 men in one night.
The person named "Rain Smith" who sent that Facebook message was actually 26-year-old Justin Strom, the leader of the Underground Gangster Crips -- a Fairfax County-based division of the Crips gang -- and had sent more than 800 similar solicitation messages to other girls, according to authorities and a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday.
|> To get help or report suspected human-trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888. Anyone with information about this operation or other Fairfax County cases can call 703-246-4006.|
Strom, of Lorton, and four other UGC members were charged in federal court in Alexandria with child sex-trafficking for allegedly running a prostitution operation that has victimized high school girls since at least April 2009. The complaint lists 10 victims, but officials believe there are many others, said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The victims were typically 16 to 18 years old and were prostituted for several weeks or months, MacBride said.
In the past year, 11 Northern Virginia gang members have faced sex-trafficking charges.
Authorities said the Crips' operations were different from previous cases -- which largely involved members of the MS-13 gang pimping teens who had run away from home -- because the Crips targeted girls at their schools, at Metro stops and through their social-networking profiles.
"There's no high school that's immune to this possibility," Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said.
Court documents describe an operation that lured attractive girls through compliments, then used threats and violence to force them into prostitution for the gang's profit.
Girls were coerced into having sex with Strom as a type of tryout, court documents say. Several of the victims told investigators they were choked or beaten if they tried to quit. Some were forced to ingest cocaine and other drugs. Some were instructed to walk door-to-door in apartment complexes to solicit work. Strom made one girl buy a handgun for him, the documents say.
Also charged were 21-year-old Michael Jefferies, of Woodbridge, and 27-year-old Donyel Dove, of Alexandria, who allegedly worked as bodyguards, and Springfield residents 23-year-old Henock Ghile and 22-year-old Christopher Sylvia, accused of working as drivers.
Attorneys for the men did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
A 17-year-old girl who was not charged worked as a prostitute and recruited others at school to participate, according to court documents.
Officials said the case showed Northern Virginia gang members could easily use social-networking and dating websites to recruit girls across the state and in Maryland.
"Our vigilance has increased," said Ronald Hosko, special agent in charge of the criminal division in the FBI's Washington field office. Hosko said he thinks the increased attention from law enforcement will yield more cases.
"My expectation is that as we look harder we will find more," he said.