NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Federal authorities say a human trafficker nicknamed "Bear" pleaded guilty Thursday to human trafficking charges. He faces up to 25 years in prison for operating a large-scale prostitution ring on Chef Menteur Highway.
As many as 10 women were forced to work the streets until he told them to quit, and Bear kept all the money. The motel where they operated was a place where the feds say pimps knew they could bully their prostitutes without the owner saying anything.
"This sends a clear message that we aren't tolerating this kind of activity in our city," said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite.
Authorities said Granville Bear Robinson used a network of six pimps to force more than 10 women to have sex with customers while collecting all the money.
"The types of damage these pimps are doing as early as 10 years old - raping, drugging, beating, taking away their IDs, marking them as slaves," Polite said.
Authorities said Granville would force the women to mark their bodies with his signature Bear tattoo to show that they belonged to him. They said he also made them ply their trade at certain motels - like the one formerly known as the Riviera - because they knew the police wouldn't be called. The motel has since been sold to new owners.
"This doesn't take place unless you have the cooperation of a business owner," Polite said. "A hotel that allows this activity to take place - we're going to the heart of the matter."
For the first time ever, the motel owner was prosecuted for profiting from a sex trafficking scheme and has pleaded guilty.
"The federal penalties for this type of human trafficking are high. We are starting to see more and more of these cases," said FOX 8 legal analyst Joseph Raspanti.
The feds say not only did former motel owner Kenny Patel turn a blind eye to the human trafficking, he also made money from it. Patel has since sold the property, and the feds confiscated $98,000 made in that transaction.
"I'm from New Orleans. We know where these hotels are operating, and the message has to be loud and clear: We are going after those individuals, as well," Polite said.
And Polite says the fight against human trafficking isn't likely to end anytime soon. Robinson used violence to enforce his rules, at one time shoving a woman's head into a toilet so hard that the toilet broke. They say he also then hit the same woman repeatedly with a board, causing nerve damage, all because she was trying to leave him.
A total of seven people have pleaded guilty in this case.