The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a man’s convictions for human trafficking and deriving support from the earnings of a prostitute, ruling that the evidence produced at trial was sufficient to support the convictions. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Steed.
In January of 2017, the Woburn Police Department was engaged in an undercover sting to root out human trafficking in the community. A sergeant found an advertisement on Backpage.com offering a “two girl special.” Backpage.com was an online classified website that was notorious for offering the services of prostitutes. It has since been shut down by the federal government. The sergeant called the phone number associated with the ad and scheduled a meeting with two women at a Woburn hotel. The price of the “date” was $500. The defendant was the women’s pimp. He drove the women to the hotel and gave them condoms. When the women arrived, the undercover officer gave them $500 in cash and one of the women texted the defendant that she had been paid. Once the money was exchanged, other officers flooded the hotel room and began interviewing the two prostitutes, who turned over their phones and agreed to speak to the police. The women ultimately testified against the defendant at his trial under a grand of immunity. One of the women testified the defendant had found her two years earlier when she was homeless in Boston. The defendant picked her up, offered her drugs, and put her to work as a prostitute, advertising on Backpage.com. The defendant drove her to all her “dates” where she had sex with men for money. Other women offered similar stories, testifying the defendant handled the logistics of the prostitution business including the advertising and the transportation. The defendant would receive half of the prostitutes’ earnings, and he also sold them drugs.
After the officers confronted the prostitutes at the hotel, other officers stopped the defendant as he was driving on a nearby highway. The cops searched his vehicle and found a large bag of condoms, an unknown woman’s license, and multiple cell phones. One of the phones had a number that matched the ad on Backpage.com, and a subsequent forensic examination of the phone established its connection to various prostitution ads placed on the website. After a jury convicted the defendant of human trafficking and deriving support from the earnings of a prostitute, a Middlesex Superior Court judge sentenced him to serve 7-10 years in state prison.
The defendant’s primary appellate argument was he should not have been convicted of deriving support from the earnings of a prostitute because the $500 the hookers gave to the undercover cop was never provided to the defendant. The Appeals Court didn’t buy the defendant’s argument. There was evidence that the defendant took half of the prostitutes’ earnings and the Court concluded the jury could have determined that as soon as the $500 was given to the prostitutes, half belonged to the defendant (even if he didn’t physically have the money in his possession yet).
Defendants charged with working as pimps face serious legal consequences. There have been recent laws enacted that harshly punish people who employ prostitutes.