March 31, 2012— -- Sex trafficking is moving to the suburbs.
Federal prosecutors have charged five alleged gang members with trafficking teenage girls into prostitution in suburban Northern Virginia, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
The five young men, who were arrested beginning Tuesday, were allegedly members of a Fairfax, Va.-based affiliate of the Crips, the notorious gang with Los Angeles roots that is known for shootouts, drugs and prostitution.
The defendants, which include accused ringleader Justin Strom, 26, of Lorton, Va., allegedly lured girls as young as 16 years old by approaching them at high schools, metro stations, and on the street, as well as contacting them through social media sites like Facebook.
The gang members would flatter the young women about their appearances, and ask them if they'd like to make a lot of money. Once they had drawn the girls in, the gangs used violence and drugs to force them into prostitution.
For example, the report said that a 17-year-old referred to as Victim No. 5 was "scared and tried to back out" when she found out the job she'd been recruited for involved prostitution.
A gang member "slammed her head against the window of [a] vehicle." He then "cut her across the left forearm with a knife" and gang members raped her, according to the affadavit.
Some of the girls were taken door to door in apartment complexes to solicit work. According to the affidavit, the payment they received for the sex acts ranged from $20 to $100, half of which they were allowed to keep.
Perhaps the most surprising admission from the affidavit was that the alleged gang members recruited teens from wealthy suburbs, though they targeted rural areas, too.
"Many of the victims in this case were girls from good homes, in good neighborhoods," Neil MacBride, a U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told reporters at a press conference. "The girls recruited were girls who lived at home with their parents, not always runaways."
Fairfax County Chief of Police David Rohrer told reporters the case illustrates that "gangs will target anyone."
While the police were able to save 10 teenage victims of the prostitution ring, federal prosecutors said the Crips may have solicited as many as 800 girls. The affidavit details local gang members' involvement in prostitution from as many as five years ago.
This incident marks the 16th case of human trafficking charged in the Eastern District of Virginia in the last year, officials said.
Prosecutors told reporters that the other men charged are Michael Tavon Jefferies, 21, of Woodbridge; Donyel Dove, 27, of Alexandria; Henock Ghile, 23, of Springfield; and Christopher Sylvia, 22, of Springfield.
"The message is clear," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "Law enforcement is looking for you, charging you, and putting you behind bars for the rest of your life."