In search of a steady stream of income, Daederick Lacy recruited women and girls to work for him. Lacy’s business plan involved an illicit trade of sex for money. His ultimate reward? A jury verdict of 293 months in prison based on three felony counts of sex trafficking.
Recruitment Through Social Media
In November 2015, Lacy, a 25-year-old man from Wichita, Kansas, used Facebook as a way to lure two underage girls and one 19-year-old woman into sex trafficking. He targeted the vulnerable—minor girls and a woman experiencing homelessness. In his recruitment pitch to one of the girls, Lacy promised she would earn $5,000-$6,000 every week. He offered another victim free flights and more than half a million dollars. These promises came with ambiguous job descriptions and dodged answers about the real work they would be doing.
Before long, Lacy utilized different websites, like Backpage.com, to advertise the females for commercial sex. He used these websites to set up “calls” with willing buyers. He provided the victims with condoms and sent them to hotels to engage in sex acts in exchange for money. If they were unwilling to perform commercial sex acts, Lacy would use coercion. In one instance, Lacy stole a victim’s car keys and phone and tried to force her to sell her car. In another instance, Lacy sent threatening Facebook messages to a victim, communicating that he would be upset if she stopped performing sex acts despite having her period.
For every sex act the females committed, Lacy received the payment. The girls never saw a dime.
An Enterprise Unraveled
Soon, Lacy’s sex trafficking enterprise began to fall apart. His control over one girl ended when her custodian discovered Facebook messages from Lacy describing their arrangement. He lost control of another victim after attempting to forcibly sell her car. Frantic and hysterical, the woman called her mother who then called the police. Law enforcement officials then interviewed the woman and acquired more information about Lacy and his sex trafficking scheme.
After losing two of his workers, Lacy drove from Kansas to Texas, intending to acquire a hotel room to make money by exploiting his remaining victim. As Lacy sent messages to his roommate, detectives tracked the geolocation of Lacy’s phone. On December 7, 2015, in Mesquite, Texas, local police found the girl, Lacy’s borrowed car, and a receipt for condoms at the Tejas Motel.
Months later, Texas police stopped Lacy for vehicle code violations and arrested him after discovering an outstanding warrant. On May 11, 2017, a jury convicted Lacy for three counts related to human trafficking.
Defendant’s Attempt to Overturn Mann Act Conviction Leads to Court’s Clarification of Intent Element of the Crime
At Lacy’s trial, the jury found him guilty of all charges, including violation of the Mann Act.1 Under the Mann Act, it is a crime to knowingly transport a minor in interstate commerce with the intent that the minor engages in prostitution or criminal sexual activity. On appeal, Lacy argued for reversal of his Mann Act conviction, focusing on the element of intent.
Lacy claimed the government did not have enough evidence to prove the primary purpose of his trip to Texas was to force the victim into prostitution. To support this argument, Lacy claimed the government did not provide eyewitness testimony showing the victim worked for him as a prostitute in Kansas. He also claimed he only drove to Texas to avoid being arrested. Because he had another purpose for driving to Texas, Lacy argued the court should reject a finding of criminal intent.
In addressing this argument, the court clarified the intent standard courts should apply in Mann Act cases. Rejecting Lacy’s argument, the court adopted the Second Circuit’s standard,2 determining the question of criminal intent should not be focused on why the defendant traveled, but rather on why the defendant transported the minor. Therefore, even if a defendant’s primary purpose for the trip was to avoid arrest, his conviction may be upheld if one of his motivations for bringing the minor with him was illegal sexual activity.
Applying this standard to the facts of Lacy’s case, the court found one of Lacy’s primary objectives in bringing the girl with him across state lines was to continue exploiting her for income. The court came to this conclusion in part because Lacy communicated his desire to leave Kansas in search of profit and to rent a hotel in Texas for that reason. This led to the conclusion he brought the victim with him in order to further exploit her for money.
Through this case, the Tenth Circuit clarified the standard for determining the criminal intent necessary to uphold a Mann Act conviction. Attorneys prosecuting defendants like Lacy do not have to prove the overall reason for the trip was for illicit sexual activity. Rather, the prosecution has to show that illegal sex was one of the defendant’s “motivating or dominant reasons”3 for the transportation of the victim. This narrower focus allows for a more appropriate demonstration of criminal intent and clarity for prosecutors trying Mann Act cases.
- 1 18 USC § 2423(a).
- 2 United States v. Vargas-Cordon, 733 F.3d 366, 377 (2d Cir. 2013).
- 3 See United States v. Meacham, 115 F.3d 1488, 1496 (10th Cir. 1997).