Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Illinois
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 11, 2016
East St. Louis Man Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Commit Sex Trafficking Of Children By Force, Fraud, And Coercion And To Sex Trafficking Of A Child By Force, Fraud, And Coercion
Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, James L. Porter, announced today, that Michael Johnson of East St. Louis, Illinois pled guilty in federal district court to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children by force, fraud, and coercion and three counts of child sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion. Johnson was detained, that is, held without bond, pending sentencing, which is scheduled for July 26, 2016, at 9:30 AM before the Honorable Staci M. Yandle, United States District Judge. At sentencing, Johnson faces any term of imprisonment or life imprisonment on the conspiracy count, followed by a minimum of five years on supervised release. Johnson faces a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen (15) years imprisonment up to life imprisonment on the three counts of sex trafficking of a child by force, fraud, and coercion, followed by a minimum of five years on supervised release. In addition to a term of imprisonment, Judge Yandle could impose a fine of up to $250,000 per count. The Court will also impose a special assessment fee of $100 per count.
Facts revealed in open court showed that in approximately April 2009, Johnson agreed with a coconspirator to operate a prostitution business. Sometime after that point but from at least approximately December 2009 and continuing through July 2013, Johnson began recruiting enticing, and obtaining more women to work in his business, including four minor victims. Johnson recruited two of the minors from the East St. Louis, IL area while they were homeless. He recruited the other two minors over a chat line and over the internet. Johnson used fear, threats of physical harm, actual physical harm, lies, and verbal manipulation to cause the minor victims to engage in sex intercourse or other sex acts for money. Johnson and his coconspirator photographed the minors and created advertisements offering their services in the escorts section of Backpage.com. Three of the victims turned over all of the cash to Johnson and the fourth turned over a portion. Johnson knew or was aware of, but carelessly disregarded how old the minor victims actually were. The youngest of the four minor victims began working for Johnson when she was 15 years old.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Springfield Division and members of the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force in Fairview Heights. Assistant United States Attorney Monica A. Stump is prosecuting the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.