By: ALANA BROE
While fifteen-year-old K.M.L. was in the hospital for mental health treatment without access to her phone, her mother noticed her Facebook account was still active. Concerned, K.M.L.’s mother gained access to K.M.L.’s Facebook account to uncover what would be any parent’s nightmare. The Facebook messages she found, coupled with investigation by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, revealed that a twenty-two-year-old man was recruiting K.M.L. into prostitution.
Charles recruited K.M.L over Facebook and took control of her account
Deuvontay Shelby Charles contacted K.M.L. over Facebook messenger and requested sexually explicit photos of her. He then promised K.M.L. that her life would be “smooth sailing” if she would “work” for him, telling K.M.L. to call him “Daddy.” Charles offered to protect K.M.L., give her condoms, and take her on a date if she made enough money. Charles was arranging to pick up K.M.L. to prostitute her when K.M.L. reached out to her mother and was hospitalized.
However, K.M.L.’s hospitalization did not deter Charles. While K.M.L. was in the hospital, Charles maintained control. Charles gained access to K.M.L.’s Facebook account, monitored her activity, posted and sent communications on her behalf, and changed her relationship status to “married” to Charles. He also tried to maintain communication with K.M.L. through her younger sister’s Facebook account under the ruse of offering K.M.L. a job in the oil industry.
After hospitalization, K.M.L. transferred to a residential treatment facility. There, Charles tried communicating with K.M.L. through another victim, A.M.C. He sent her a letter with his address and phone number to convey that he would be waiting for her when she got out.
Investigation revealed exploitation of many vulnerable girls through Facebook
Further investigation revealed that K.M.L. was not Charles’ only victim. He targeted vulnerable girls: those who ran away from home, those seeking mental health treatment, or those who were otherwise “struggling.” The victims were all between the ages of 14 and 17. Charles had previous convictions for convincing a fifteen-year-old girl to send him sexually explicit photos, sharing them on Facebook pages with her personal information, and leveraging them to coerce her to have sex with him. Consequently, Charles was a registered sex offender, but continued to exploit young girls. He solicited photos from multiple minor victims in addition to K.M.L. Charles contacted all victims through Facebook and maintained communication with them through Facebook messenger or Kik. He then encouraged these victims into prostitution, successfully trafficking some and retaining over half of the profits.
Charles was convicted of and sentenced to 20 counts of federal crimes
On September 1, 2015, the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant on Charles’s grandmother’s house. Law enforcement seized three cell phones containing evidence of Facebook and Kik communications along with child pornography photos and videos.
A jury convicted Charles of numerous charges, including 12 counts of production of child pornography, three counts of sex trafficking of a minor, and two counts of sex trafficking by use of force, fraud and coercion. The trial court sentenced him to 36 years imprisonment, followed by 20 years of supervised release. The trial court also granted $30,095 of payment in restitution.
Charles appealed his conviction, raising procedural arguments and challenges to the award of restitution. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit upheld his sentence and the order of restitution. However, the court reduced the restitution order to $675 because the government failed to produce specific evidence of the costs incurred.
Award of Restitution
This award of restitution is noteworthy for many reasons. Most significantly, Charles never actually trafficked K.M.L. and he committed the offense completely online. Charles contacted K.M.L., attempted to exercise control over her, and had plans to traffic her, but these plans fell through when K.M.L. was hospitalized and her mother intervened. Even still, the court relied upon the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (MVRA)1 and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)2 to issue an award of restitution.
Under the TVPA, a defendant convicted of sex trafficking “must pay ‘the full amount of the victim’s losses,’ which includes—as relevant here—‘medical services relating to physical, psychiatric, or psychological care,’ ‘necessary transportation… expenses,’ and ‘any other losses suffered by the victim as a proximate cause of the offense.’”3
In awarding restitution to K.M.L., the court considered the fact that K.M.L. was hospitalized and spent time at an inpatient juvenile center to receive mental health treatment after her online interaction with Charles. At trial and on appeal, Charles challenged the causal relationship between his crimes and K.M.L.’s treatment. Responding to this argument, the government put forth expert testimony from forensic pediatrician Sharon Cooper about “how important it is to provide appropriate mental health support for sex trafficking victims, including in cases where the victimization only occurs online.”4 She explained, “even in cases where the victim and defendant had not met in person, such victims have a high incidence of anxiety believing that ‘the offender is always out there.’”5 The Eighth Circuit cited this expert testimony in affirming the award of restitution and the finding of a causal connection between Charles’ acts and K.M.L.’s treatment.
Courts greatly underutilize restitution. Even though the TVPA has a mandatory restitution provision, restitution is rarely awarded to trafficking victims.6 According to the 2017 Federal Human Trafficking Report,7 courts elected not to order restitution for 78.6% of defendants sentenced. United States v. Charles shows the high degree of flexibility that the government has in arguing for restitution. Restitution, while traditionally used to compensate for financial crimes, is available in the human trafficking context for any cost incurred because of the trafficker’s actions. Under this precedent, even in non-traditional cases where the trafficker and victim never met, communicated only online, and the victim never performed sex acts for money, restitution is still appropriate, and courts should order restitution to ensure survivors have the resources and access to aftercare services that they need to heal.
- 1 18 U.S.C. §3663A(“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, when sentencing a defendant convicted of an offense described in subsection (c), the court shall order, in addition to, or in the case of a misdemeanor, in addition to or in lieu of, any other penalty authorized by law, that the defendant make restitution to the victim of the offense or, if the victim is deceased, to the victim’s estate”).
- 2 18 U.S.C. §1593(a)(“Notwithstanding [the MRVA], and in addition to any other civil or criminal penalties authorized by law, the court shall order restitution for any offense under this chapter.”).
- 3 United States v. Charles, 895 F.3d 560 (8th Cir. 2018)(quoting U.S.C. §§1593(b)(1), (b)(3), 2259(b)(3)(emphasis added)).
- 4 United States v. Charles, 895 F.3d 560 (8th Cir. 2018).
- 5 Government Brief at 50, United States v. Charles, 895 F.3d 560 (8th Cir. 2018)(Nos. 17-2391 and 17-3094)(quoting Dr. Sharon Cooper’ Trial Testimony).
- 6 See When Mandatory Does Not Mean Mandatory: Failure to Obtain Criminal Restitution in Federal Prosecution of Human Trafficking, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center 1, 4 (2014) https://www.traffickingmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2015-HTLC-HTProBono-Trafficking-Restitution-Report.pdf.
- 7 2017 Federal Human Trafficking Report, Human Trafficking Institute (2017), available at https://www.traffickingmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2017-Federal-Human-Trafficking-Report_hi-res.pdf.