Gang associates plead guilty in Fairfax prostitution ring, officials say
By Justin Jouvenal,
Two associates of a Fairfax County-based Crips gang pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of running a prostitution ring that recruited and trafficked local high school girls, authorities said.
Michael Tavon Jeffries, 21, of Woodbridge and Christopher Sylvia, 23, of Springfield admitted their role in the operation in federal court in Alexandria.
Authorities said members of the Underground Gangster Crips approached girls on street corners, the Metro, Facebook and even in school, telling them that they were pretty and could earn money by having sex with men.
At least 10 underage girls from Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia were lured into prostitution and were forced to continue working through threats and violence, including rape, court records say.
Jeffries, a member of the gang, and Sylvia, an associate, pleaded guilty to sexual trafficking of a minor. They could be sentenced from 10 years to life in prison.
“We have a zero-tolerance, one-strike policy toward juvenile sex trafficking in this district,” said U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride. “Anyone we find who entices or forces a young girl into the vile world of prostitution will pay a very heavy price for their actions.”
Jeffries admitted that he worked as a bodyguard for the ring, collecting proceeds from prostitution, advertising the girls on Backpage.com and paying for hotel rooms, where the liaisons occurred, court records show. Sylvia admitted to transporting girls to jobs.
Both are scheduled to be sentenced in July. Attorneys for the men declined to comment.
The accused leader of the ring, Justin Strom, 26, of Lorton, and two other gang members — Donyel Dove, 27, of Alexandria and Henock Ghile, 23, of Springfield — have also been charged in the case.
Authorities said the ring, which operated for as long as five years, was unusual because it targeted girls living at home, not runaways, and gang members heavily used social media, such as Facebook, to recruit the teens.
Gang members created a fake Facebook profile for a woman named “Rain Smith” and sent more than 800 messages to girls they found attractive in attempts to recruit them, court records show.
In one instance, a girl was recruited in school by a classmate who was already working as a prostitute, court records show. Authorities declined to discuss which local schools were involved.
Authorities said that the prostitution occurred in Strom’s home and that, on some occasions, the girls worked door to door at Northern Virginia apartment complexes.
If girls tried to quit, Strom allegedly got violent. In one case, he is accused of raping a 17-year-old girl at knifepoint and then forcing her to have sex with 14 men in a hotel room, court records show. Authorities said Strom collected $1,000 that night.