Federal authorities charged five alleged members of a dangerous Fairfax County street gang Thursday with running a prostitution ring that recruited high school girls and threatened them with violence if they didn't cooperate.
According to an FBI affidavit, the suspects not only threatened the girls with violence, but forced them to take drugs if they refused to participate or didn't perform as directed. The suspects, who are allegedly members of the Underground Gangster Crips, face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
"Through flattery, coercion and threats of violence, they would lure these young women into prostitution," said Neil H. McBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who made the announcement of the arrests at the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria alongside Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Fairfax County Police Chief Col. David Rohrer.
"These gang members are alleged to have lured many area high school girls in the vile world of prostitution, and used violence and threats to keep them working as indentured sex slaves," McBride said.
Justin Strom, 26, of Lorton, is the alleged leader of the Underground Gangster Crips (UGC) in Fairfax County, an offshoot of the California-based Crips. According to an FBI affidavit, over a period of about five years, Strom recruited up to 10 high school girls from Fairfax County between the ages of 16 to 18 years-old to become prostitutes.
He allegedly found the girls at Metro stations, on the street, at schools, dating Web sites and by using a number of fake Facebook profiles. When they didn't perform or refused to participate, he allegedly beat, raped or forced them to take a number of drugs, which included marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy, the affidavit noted.
Strom and fellow gang members allegedly used Craiglist, Facebook and DateHookUp.com to solicit the girls, according to court documents. Investigators obtained more than 800 Facebook messages to potential victims from the fake user name "Rain Smith." Once a girl agreed to the prostitution scheme, they were required to have sex with a gang member as an initiation ritual. On the job, many allegedly frequented area motels and apartment complexes in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County, and charged between $20 and $100.
Last fall, a parent of one of the underage girls discovered her daughter's situation and contacted Fairfax County Police. "Basically, one parent at least was suspicious of their daughter, or was concerned…and eventually in conversation, found out what was going on," said Cuccinelli. "Parents need to talk with their kids and be vigilant about their activities online."
Strom was arrested at his home in Lorton on Wednesday. Also arrested were Michael Tavon Jeffries, 21, of Woodbridge, and Henock Ghile, 23, of Springfield —both alleged bodyguards and drivers.
"All three were reportedly shocked and surprised," said Rohrer. "Prostitution and trafficking are not victimless crimes. We cannot and shall not tolerate these acts, and we will continue to investigate and pursue those who harm others, especially our children."
Other alleged accomplices include Christopher Sylvia, 22, of Springfield, who was arrested on March 8, and Donyel Dove, 27, of Alexandria, who is in state custody for an unrelated charge.
Once in the gang's prostitution ring, it was hard to get out, according to the affidavit. Strom allegedly slammed a girl's head into a car window after she refused to ingest cocaine, according to court records. The victim later told investigators that she was forced to take the cocaine, and then commit sex acts on Strom with a knife at her throat. When she tried to refuse, Strom allegedly cut her arm and then raped her. She was then taken into an apartment and forced to have sex with 14 unknown males.
"She (the victim) recalls Strom being present for the fruition and collecting approximately $1,000 afterwards from the men," according to the affidavit.
The Fairfax County Police Department's Gang Investigations Unit has investigated several crimes committed by members of the UGC:
- Dec. 19, 2005, a 15-year-old girl was raped and robbed in her home by UGC gang members, who later admitted their guilt.
- Jan. 7, 2006, a taxi cab driver was robbed at gunpoint by a known UGC member.
- Dec. 28, 2006, a 16-year-old girl was abducted and raped by UGC members at Springfield Mall.
- May 1, 2007, a man was the victim of a UGC strong-arm robbery.
- November 2011, the Fairfax County Police Department and the FBI launched an investigation into the UGC prostitution operation.
Today's arrests mark 11 members of area gangs to have been charged with underage sex trafficking this year. The case was investigated by the Fairfax County Police Department and the FBI's Washington Field office with help from the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force.