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Woodbridge gang member gets 10 years in prison for role in teen prostitution ring

A member of a violent street gang was sentenced Friday to 10 years in federal prison for helping run a prostitution ring that trafficked in local girls recruited over the Internet and at Metro stations and high schools, federal prosecutors said.

Michael Tavon Jefferies, 21, of Woodbridge pleaded guilty in April to sex trafficking of a juvenile, admitting that he had acted as a bodyguard and collected prostitution proceeds for his gang, the Underground Gangster Crips, which operated in Fairfax County.

Jefferies was one of five associates, or members, of the gang who were charged in March in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with sex-trafficking offenses. The other members have pleaded guilty to related charges and are awaiting sentencing.

The gang employed at least eight girls as prostitutes from 2006 through March, prosecutors said in court papers. Gang members recruited the girls in person and through social media sites such as MySpace and Facebook, telling them that they looked pretty and could make easy money.

Some of the victims were assured that they would only be dancing, stripping or escorting, but they were steered into prostitution, federal prosecutors said.

The ring charged men $40 for 15 minutes of sex with the girls, who typically had five to 10 customers a day. To maintain control over the victims, gang members used “coercion, threats, and in some cases, force,” federal prosecutors wrote in court papers.

Prosecutors alleged that Jefferies played “an integral part of the operation” during a three-month period that ended in January. Among the services he provided the gang, federal prosecutors alleged, were acting as a bodyguard for the girls, collecting money from clients, financing a prostitution advertisement, buying condoms and renting hotel rooms.

“Jefferies was no passive bystander in the operation but instead was actively involved,” wrote prosecutors Marc J. Birnbaum and Inayat Delawala of the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria.

Federal prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least 25 years in prison. But U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema appeared to agree with Jefferies’s attorney that the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years was sufficient, court records show.

Jefferies’s attorney, Keva J. McDonald, wrote in court papers that Jefferies had left the gang and had started to turn his life around when the ring was busted. McDonald also wrote that Jefferies played a relatively minor and short-lived role in the prostitution operation.

“He did not create it,” McDonald wrote. “He did not seek out or recruit females for it or demand their participation. He did not seek out and recruit other bodyguards or drivers.”

The gang’s leader, Justin Strom, 26, of Lorton, who pleaded guilty June 26 to sex trafficking of a juvenile, is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

Federal authorities have said that gangs are increasingly turning to the prostitution of juveniles to make easy cash.

In recent months, for example, members of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, have pleaded guilty in Alexandria’s federal court to sex-trafficking offenses and been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

“It is seen as a lucrative enterprise with low start-up costs, a readily replenished supply of victims, and significant demand in a marketplace that operates both online and on the street,” Birnbaum and Delawala wrote in court papers.

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