Justin Strom, 26, of Lorton is accused of leading the gang. He and four other alleged members have been charged with sex trafficking, according to documents unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. If convicted, each could serve life in prison.
Federal prosecutors said the operation was unusual because it preyed on girls living at home, not runaways, and used social media to lure teens from Virginia,
Maryland and West Virginia. At least one teenager was recruited at school by a classmate who was working as a prostitute, authorities say.
“There’s no high school that’s immune to this possibility,” said Ken Cuccinelli II (R), Virginia’s attorney general, at a news conference. “This is a problem — thanks to the Internet — that can reach across borders more easily.”
Strom’s attorney, Alan H. Yamamoto, said Thursday afternoon that because he had just learned about the case and had not met with his client, he would not comment on the charges.
In recent years, street gangs have turned to prostitution as a moneymaker, authorities said. Members of the violent gang Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13, have been accused in federal court in Virginia of prostitution-related charges involving juveniles.
Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Strom and his associates are accused of posing as a woman named “Rain Smith” on Facebook and sending more than 800 messages to girls they found attractive to lure them into the ring. Strom instructed a 17-year-old runaway, who was the gang’s most senior prostitute, to help find others, court records say.
In November, that girl, identified in court papers as M.W., approached a classmate at an unnamed school and told her she was a “confident pretty woman.” M.W. also chatted her up on Facebook:
“M.W.: Lol u tryna make sum money . . . ?
M.W.: Trickin . . . Like u get 50% n u get all da drugs . . . uwwant basically.”
The classmate became part of the ring, earning $100 per client, according to court records. Other girls were often required to submit to sex with gang members as a “try out,” before they could join the operation, court records say.
The teens were advertised on Web sites such as Craigslist and Backpage.com, according to court records, and the prostitution allegedly occurred in Strom’s Lorton home. At other times, the victims were taken to “out calls,” sometimes driven in one gang member’s white, four-door Cadillac. The girls also worked door to door at apartment complexes in Northern Virginia, court documents say.