Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sex Trafficking: Guilty Plea Entered by Final Defendant Charged in Augusta Sex Trafficking Ring

U.S. Attorney’s Office 
Southern District of Georgia

AUGUSTA, GA—William Warren Hart, 35, of Hephzibah, Georgia, pled guilty last week before Senior United States District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen, Jr. for his role in a sex trafficking organization that operated in Augusta, Georgia, in 2013. Hart, who faces up to five years in prison for his limited role in the sex trafficking organization, pled guilty to using a facility of interstate commerce to facilitate the carrying on of a business involving prostitution. The other four defendants charged include:
  • Charles Henry Castillo, a/k/a “Joe King,” 32, of Augusta, Georgia
  • Allison Jontil Barnes, a/k/a “Jah” and “Shantae Davis,” 29, of Augusta, Georgia
  • Shelica Daniels, a/k/a “Red,” 27, of Augusta, Georgia
  • Heather Leigh Hedrick, 30, of Augusta, Georgia
Each of these four defendants pled guilty previously to conspiring to engage in the sex trafficking of a minor. The charge carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

United States Attorney Edward Tarver stated, “Georgia’s children are at risk and continue to be vulnerable to exploitation. More collaborative efforts and faster responses by law enforcement agencies are needed to protect our children. The aggressive prosecution of individuals like these defendants will continue to be a priority for the Department of Justice and this United States Attorney’s Office.”

J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, said, “The defendants in this case clearly illustrate the need for law enforcement, working within the community, to protect our youth who remain vulnerable to those who would prey on them. The FBI will continue to provide significant investigative resources toward investigations that focus on juvenile sex trafficking within Georgia.”

According to evidence presented during several guilty plea hearings, Daniels, in the summer of 2013, encouraged a 16-year-old girl to leave home and begin working for and with Daniels as a prostitute. Daniels placed ads on Backpage.com using a pseudonym for the victim to facilitate the criminal conduct. Soon afterwards, Barnes, who met the victim through Daniels, encouraged the victim to begin working for Barnes in the same way. Ultimately, the two met up with Castillo, who assumed a leadership role in the operation. Castillo enlisted the assistance of Hedrick and Barnes in preparing images and videos of the minor to be used to advertise her availability for prostitution. Hart assisted Barnes in posting some of those advertisements on Backpage.com.

On August 26, 2013, the FBI received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that a juvenile’s images were being posted on Backpage.com for prostitution services. Through an undercover operation conducted that same day, agents and officers with the FBI’s Computer Crime Child Exploitation (CCCX) Task Force identified and arrested Castillo, Hedrick, and Barnes and rescued the 16-year-old victim at Castillo’s apartment.

This prosecution was the result of a joint investigation of the FBI’s CCCX Task Force, made up of Augusta-area FBI agents; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; Richmond County Sheriff’s Office; and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, which is a nationwide U.S. Department of Justice initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorney’s Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. Assistant United States Attorneys Patricia Rhodes and Nancy Greenwood, Deputy Criminal Chief in the Augusta U.S. Attorney’s Branch Office and Project Safe Childhood Coordinator, prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.