ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - An alleged street gang member admitted his role Tuesday in a prostitution ring that recruited high school girls for paid sex acts and threatened those who refused to participate.
Justin Strom, who prosecutors say ran the ring and recruited at least eight girls to participate over a six-year period, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court here to sex trafficking of a child. He faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum life sentence under the terms of his plea agreement.
He is the last of five men who were charged in March to plead guilty in the investigation. Authorities say the five are members and associates of a Fairfax County-based offshoot of the Crips street gang known as the Underground Gangster Crips.
The group used social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to recruit underage girls, promising them a cut of the proceeds for paid sex acts, plying them with illegal drugs like cocaine and supplying condoms, federal authorities say. Some of the girls told authorities that they were forced to have sex with Strom or other gang members as a tryout or initiation.
One girl told authorities that Strom approached her at a Metro station in 2009 - when she was 16 years old - told her she was pretty and that she could earn money by having sex. She said they had sex in the woods behind the Metro station after Strom told her that "he needed to see if it was good first," and then worked as a prostitute for him that spring and summer, according to an FBI affidavit.
Some of the girls who tried to quit the operation said they were either threatened with violence or, in some cases, physically attacked, the affidavit says.
Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said after the hearing that the case sent a message that sex traffickers weren't welcome in the state and would be arrested, prosecuted and exposed to long prison sentences.
"This will permanently scar young lives," said Ronald Hosko, the special agent in charge of the criminal division at the FBI's Washington field office.
Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 14.