The latest arrest occurred Aug. 2, when members of the federal Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force — which includes officers from the District — took Anthony Gray, 37, of Clinton, Md., into custody.
Gray, who court papers say is known as “Playboy,” was charged in U.S. District Court with sex trafficking of a minor and racketeering, in addition to other counts that include witness tampering.
A federal magistrate judge ordered Gray detained after a hearing in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy E. Larson noted a litany of prior arrests and convictions, and the seriousness of the current charges as they relate to women caught up in sex work.
Gray’s attorney, Ubong Akpan with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, argued the prior cases involving her client were years old and said he has family in the area, a job and a fiancee. Akpan also noted that while prosecutors in charging papers frequently discussed violence pertaining to the sex trade, Gray does not face any charges related to firearms.
In March, one of Gray’s alleged accomplices, Terrell “Supreme” Armstead, 27, was convicted in federal court of one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. The jury deadlocked on several other counts, and his defense attorney and prosecutors are trying to negotiate a plea deal before a new trial on those counts in October.
Armstead’s case revealed a shadow world in which prosecutors said young women and girls from across the country were lured to Maryland and the District and put out on the streets or into hotel rooms as prostitutes.
Court documents said they were monitored constantly by GPS devices, some were branded with tattoos, and many were promised that street work was the first step to a lavish lifestyle working at upscale clubs or as exclusive “girlfriends” for rich benefactors. Several young women testified against Armstead.
Larson, the prosecutor, told jurors during her closing argument at the trial in March that the women who told their stories had been through “horrible, traumatic experiences that most of us cannot even imagine, let alone begin to understand: sexual abuse, physical assaults, homelessness, drug addiction, depression, anxiety.”
Larson said Armstead “targeted these women, he relentlessly pursued them, he recruited them, he used them, abused them, assaulted them,” according to a transcript. “He used every tactic and tool that he could think of to trick, manipulate, coerce and force them into working for him in a manner that is dangerous, degrading and dehumanizing.”
The prosecutor said he “counted on the fact that if these women ever told anybody, that they would not be believed.” She recalled one young woman who testified that she took in $1,000 a night but had to ask the defendant permission to buy a pack of cigarettes.
Armstead’s attorney, Jonathan Zucker, told jurors that “there was no dispute” that his client was a pimp involved in prostitution. But he challenged them to find credible evidence to back the testimony from the alleged victims. In one case, he said prosecutors could not prove Armstead knew one was a minor.
Zucker told jurors that prosecutors were trying “to get you to hate him so much that you would convict him no matter what the evidence shows.”
“I don’t expect your approval of Mr. Armstead’s lifestyle choices, I don’t expect you to condone them. I do expect . . . you judge him fairly based on the evidence,” he said, adding: “Pimps and saints get the same treatment in a courtroom.”
Zucker told jurors that it was Gray who was in charge, noting an instance in a hotel where prosecutors alleged Gray photographed women and put ads on the Internet.
Prosecutors allege that Gray reached out to a woman who had worked for both suspects, starting when she was 17 years old, and tried to intimidate her into not cooperating with authorities.
“I hope you didn’t lie in the things you said because I will do life to tell the truth about everything that happen,” the message on Facebook said. “Are you willing to do the same.”
The court document said Gray wrote: “God bless you with twins and future.” In the Armstead case, prosecutors said “twins” was the defendants’ code for guns.