NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Granville Robinson, 27, of Memphis, Tennessee, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking for his role in scheme operated out of the Riviera Motel in New Orleans. Six defendants have previously pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme, which prosecutors say involved force and threats to compel multiple women to engage in prostitution for the defendants' profit in New Orleans and elsewhere.
"Human traffickers facilitate a form of modern-day slavery that threatens the dignity of vulnerable individuals and violates the most basic standards of human decency," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "We will continue to vigorously pursue justice by prosecuting traffickers and protecting victims from this heinous crime that has no place in our society."
"This defendant recruited vulnerable victims from the New Orleans community and brought other victims to New Orleans to engage in commercial sex trafficking," said U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana. "These crimes often pass without detection because victims live in fear from physical abuse, threats and other forms of coercion. My office is committed to prosecuting individuals who manipulate victims into committing commercial sex acts and profit from this illegal conduct."
"Granville Robinson is not only the ringleader of this gang, but also the most violent of the group," said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI's New Orleans Division. "In December 2015, the FBI New Orleans Division established the 'Violent Crime Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force,' a stand-alone squad formed to specifically address the Human Trafficking threat in Louisiana. We will continue to aggressively work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to investigate these matters and bring people to justice."
"Sex traffickers have complete disregard for humanity. They treat people as commodities solely for financial gain," said Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer Jr. of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans. "With this guilty plea, we have made our nation safer, ensuring this trafficker can't harm future victims."
On Oct. 3 2014, Robinson and co-defendants Duane Phillips, Christopher Williams, Anthony Ellis and Laquentin Brown were charged in a second superseding indictment with sex trafficking conspiracy and varying counts of sex trafficking and transportation for prostitution. An additional defendant, Kanubhai Patel, who owned the Riviera Motel where the sex trafficking scheme was based, was charged in the same indictment with benefiting financially from sex trafficking. A seventh defendant, Zacchaeus Taylor, was charged separately on March 28, 2014.
According to Robinson's admissions during his plea hearing and other court documents, he enforced strict rules on the women he trafficked as part of his conspiracy. These rules included requiring the women to earn a minimum amount each day, to provide him with all of their earnings and to seek his permission to stop prostituting for the night. Robinson confiscated some women's identification to make it harder for them to leave, and forced some to get tattoos signifying that they belonged to him. When the women broke the rules or did not earn enough money, Robinson physically assaulted them.
Robinson acknowledged compelling and coercing more than 10 different women to engage in prostitution for his profit from 2012 through January 2014 in connection with the charged conspiracy. Robinson admitted to using force to punish and control the women, including one instance of punching and kicking a woman in the abdomen, knowing she was pregnant, to punish her for texting without his permission, and another instance of shoving a woman into a toilet tank hard enough to break it, then striking her repeatedly with a wooden board, to punish her for reportedly planning to escape.
Robinson and his co-defendants aided each other by posting bond for each other following arrests, monitoring the women and reporting to each other any violations of the rules the defendants imposed on the women and transporting women together from New Orleans to Texas, Tennessee, Maryland and Washington, D.C., for prostitution. When two women tried to escape on one such trip, Robinson and a co-defendant found them, forced them into a car, and brought them back to New Orleans to continue prostituting.
Robinson and his co-defendants operated out of certain motels, including the Riviera, which generally did not report their activities to the police. The defendants rented multiple rooms at the Riviera where women would meet prostitution clients, and paid the Riviera above-market rates to reflect the high traffic through the rooms.
Robinson is the seventh defendant to plead guilty in connection with this case. On July 1, 2015, Patel pleaded guilty to benefitting financially from human trafficking. In March and April 2015, Phillips, Williams, Ellis and Brown pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion. Ellis and Brown also pleaded guilty to interstate transportation for prostitution. On June 25, 2014, Taylor pleaded guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and interstate transportation for prostitution.
At sentencing, currently scheduled for May 4, 2016, Robinson faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. The plea agreement provides for a recommended sentence of 24 and a half years in prison.
This case was investigated jointly by the FBI's New Orleans Division and HIS's New Orleans Field Office, with assistance from the FBI's Memphis Division. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti and Special Litigation Counsel John Cotton Richmond of the Civil Right Division's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.