Special to Iredell Free News

CHARLOTTE – January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina reaffirms its commitment to combating all forms of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking, which encompasses sex trafficking, forced labor, and domestic servitude, is a crime that impacts our society’s most vulnerable members,” said U.S. Attorney Dena J. King. “The invisible nature of human trafficking poses a challenge for prosecutors and law enforcement, as perpetrators often commit this abhorrent crime in plain sight. Working with our law enforcement and community partners we will continue to raise awareness and shine a light on all forms of human trafficking, work together to identify and assist trafficking victims, and prosecute those who use fraud, force and coercion to profit from the exploitation of other human beings.”

“Right now, there are more than 1,700 human trafficking cases being investigated by the FBI in field offices across the country. Our investigations are not only about taking traffickers off the streets, but about making sure we offer resources, care, and kindness to the victims to help them rebuild their lives. The FBI’s victim assistance specialists work with every trafficking victim to help end the cycle of violence and manipulation they experience,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert R. Wells.

“HSI special agents and officers in your communities and around the globe work tirelessly to uncover, dismantle and disrupt human trafficking every day,” said Special Agent in Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in North Carolina and South Carolina. “Human Trafficking Prevention Month is a great reminder to us all that ‘If you see something, say something.’ ”

Human Trafficking Prosecutions

In 2021, the Office’s anti-trafficking efforts have resulted in the following prosecutions:

U.S. v. McIllwain – On April 19, 2021, Simone Cherelle McIllwain, 30, of Charlotte pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor. As filed plea documents show, from December 2 to December 19, 2019, McIllwain did knowingly recruit, entice and transport a minor, recklessly disregarded that the minor was under the age of 18 years old, and that the minor would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act. A sentencing date for McIllwain has not been set.

U.S. v. Blair – On July 1, 2021, Dajuan Akeem Blair, 26, of Cornelius pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor. As Blair admitted in court, from December 26 to December 28, 2018, Blair recruited, enticed and transported a minor, having reasonable opportunity to observe the minor was under the age of 18 years old, and knowing that the minor would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act. A sentencing date for Blair has not been set.

U.S. v. Hasty – On October 13, 2021, Milton Antonio Hasty, 31, of Fayetteville pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor. According to court records, from January 22, 2019, through June 5, 2019, Hasty did knowingly recruit, entice and transport a minor, recklessly disregarded that the minor was under the age of 18 years old, and that the minor would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act. A sentencing date for Hasty has not been set.

U.S. v. Luong – On January 8, 2021, a federal jury in Charlotte convicted Thuy Tien Luong, 38, of Charlotte, of forced labor, after finding that the defendant compelled the labor of one of her nail technicians at a salon she owned and operated in Davidson. According to trial evidence, from October 2016 to June 2018, Luong compelled the victim’s labor by, among other things, physically assaulting the victim, threatening to ruin the victim’s reputation with her family, and falsely claiming that the victim owed Luong a fictitious debt. Luong is currently awaiting sentencing.

U.S. Attorney King commended the FBI for their investigative efforts in the prosecutions against McIllwain, Blair and Hasty, and thanked HSI, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, and the Davidson Police Department for their excellent work in the case against Luong.

The statutory penalties for human trafficking offenses range from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison.

“As we continue our fight against all forms of human trafficking, our recent courtroom successes should serve as stark warnings to anyone engaged in this type of repugnant criminal activity: We will find you and hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney King.

If you believe you are the victim of a trafficking situation or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888. NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline, with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors, and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur. You can also text NHTRC at 233733 or submit a tip online.

You can also contact Homeland Security Investigations at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or the Charlotte Office of the FBI at 704-672-6100. 

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