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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Contact: Bob Brammer, Iowa Attorney General’s Office, 515-281-6699,
rbramme@ag.state.ia.us

First Iowa Conviction for “Human Trafficking”

Crawford County Jury finds Leonard Ray Russell guilty of Human Trafficking, Ongoing Criminal Conduct, and Pandering

[UPDATE as of 12-22-08: Russell was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.]

[UPDATE as of 3-9-09: Marcia Ryan pled guilty to one count of pandering, a Class C felony. Sentencing was set for April 6, 2009, in Crawford County.]

Statement:

 

A Crawford County jury has found Leonard Ray Russell guilty of “human trafficking,” the first Iowa conviction under a new law that took effect in 2006. Prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office alleged that Russell recruited and harbored two Nebraska runaway girls last year (age 15 and 16 at the time) for the purpose of commercial sexual activity, including prostitution and performing at strip clubs.

The two girls testified in open court last week that they met Russell in Omaha in August 2007, shortly after the girls ran away from a juvenile home in Fremont, Nebraska. Russell – whom the girls were instructed to call “Sir” – recruited the girls with the help of a 19-year-old prostitute known to the girls as “Jazzie” (Marcia Ryan). Russell took the girls to Davenport and Rockford, IL, and back to Denison, IA, over several days, and had them engage in prostitution and perform at strip clubs, including Big Earl’s Key Club in Denison.

Both girls testified that they didn’t like what they were doing and felt ashamed, but they said they also felt they had nowhere else to go. Both testified that they had to give all the money they made to Russell and Jazzie in exchange for food, shelter, transportation and clothing. Ultimately, both girls were recovered and protected by police after more than a week with Russell and Jazzie.

“I think human trafficking is a much bigger problem in Iowa than most of us realize,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. “It can be very perilous for young people, and it may well hit disadvantaged kids and occur in small towns. The underground nature of human trafficking makes it hard to see and hard to combat, but the trafficking law is a valuable new tool and we are going to use it.”

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More background and detail:

The 12-person Crawford County jury convicted Russell after a four-day trial last week in Denison. The verdict was returned at 6:45 p.m Friday, Sept. 12. The Court will set a later date for sentencing. Russell’s bond was revoked and he is being held in the Crawford County jail in Denison. Denise Timmins and Susan Krisko of the Attorney General’s Area Prosecutions Division prosecuted the case.

The jury convicted Russell of two counts of Human Trafficking, a Class C felony; one count of Ongoing Criminal Conduct, a Class B felony; and two counts of Pandering, a Class C felony. Class B felonies are punishable by up to 25 years in prison, and Class C felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. Russell’s date of birth is 8-1-71. Russell has used addresses in both Omaha and Sioux City.

Iowa Code sec. 710A makes human trafficking a Class C felony if the victim is under age 18. Iowa Code sec. 710A.1(4)(b) says: “‘Human trafficking’ means participating in a venture to recruit, harbor, transport, supply provisions, or obtain a person for any of the following purposes: . . . commercial sexual activity.” (In other instances, human trafficking could be for purposes of forced labor, debt bondage, or slavery.)

More details from testimony at the Leonard Ray Russell trial:

Witnesses testifying in open court during the trial recounted events over an 8-to-10 day period in August 2007, including:

“Jazzie,” the 19-year-old prostitute, found the two underage runaways in Omaha on August 20, 2007, the day after the girls left the juvenile home in Fremont, NE, without permission and got a ride to Omaha. Jazzie introduced the girls to a man called “Sir” (Leonard Ray Russell), who asked if they would like to go out of town with him and Jazzie. The girls agreed, and the group drove all night and ended up in Davenport about 5 a.m. Jazzie provided the girls with marijuana and alcohol throughout the trip. The girls were informed they would have to work if they wanted to stay with Russell, but no details were provided about what type of work. Upon waking in Davenport, the girls were told they would have to earn money by “getting dates,” and they were instructed how to walk around the hotel and how to negotiate money for sex.

Russell then took the girls to Rockford, IL, and then to Denison, Iowa. The girls engaged in prostitution and gave Russell the money they were paid. After a few days, one of the girls (barely age 15) was told that she was being sent to Washington, D.C., to learn to “walk the tracks” (solicit for sex) and would be staying with Russell’s cousin. The other girl testified that she was told she would be stripping at Big Earl’s Key Club in Denison. The money she earned at Big Earl’s for topless dancing and talking to patrons was given to Russell, she testified.

Thanks to an anonymous tip, one girl was recovered and protected by Denison police at Big Earl’s Key Club in Denison. Then the other girl, who had been put on a Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C., by Russell, was recovered and protected upon her arrival there by D.C. police who focus on trafficking. The girls spent 10 and 8 days with Russell, respectively.

Local police and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation investigators testified at the trial how they had retraced the steps the girls took and located hotel receipts showing Russell had rented rooms in the cities the girls described. Investigators also found Internet postings with photographs offering the two girls as prostitutes.

Russell is awaiting sentencing in the Crawford County jail. Jazzie – Marcia Ryan – was arrested on September 9, 2008, in Omaha, NE, on an active warrant. Ryan earlier was charged with the same counts Russell faced in last week’s trial. Ryan’s preliminary hearing was set for Sept. 19, 2008. Criminal charges naming a defendant are only allegations, unless and until a defendant is found guilty of the charges.

END