BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Zachary man, who authorities describe as a pimp, has been sentenced to 115 months in federal prison for operating an interstate prostitution ring involving a minor.
Jeremie Tate, 34, was arrested in September 2013. He was accused of prostituting a 19-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl. The prostitution ring was exposed when a Baton Rouge hotel employee noticed something suspicious and called police. At the time, Tate fled. He was arrested in Houston by federal officers.
According to case documents, Tate used the website backpage.com to connect to clients. The investigation also revealed a woman named Roxanne Merritt helped recruit prostitutes. She is among three people who already pleaded guilty and have been sentenced for their roles in this prostitution ring.
"In this case, we had a defendant who was basically manipulating a woman through coercion and the use of drugs to engage her in prostitution for his own benefit," said Walt Green, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.
Tate pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully use interstate facilities in aid of racketeering, two counts of use of interstate facilities in aid of racketeering, and enticing another travel interstate for prostitution. Federal Judge Shelly Dick sentenced Tate to a little over nine and a half years in federal prison.
As a part of the plea deal, Tate admitted to using drugs and intimidation to control and manipulate the victims, and to collect most of their money. He also admitted to taking a girl to Las Vegas for prostitution.
After the sentencing, Green said his office was pleased with the sentencing which was more than what the probation office recommended. However, Judge Dick pointed out during the proceedings that the penalty could have been much higher had the charges included something like child exploitation.
Green explained his office pursued the broader racketeering charges because they felt that was a conviction they could win based on the facts and evidence at hand.
"They're very difficult cases. For one instance, you don't have victims who want to come out and talk about this," said Green. "So, we have to take not only our victims, our other witnesses and evidence and decide how we're going to charge that case."
Advocates for human trafficking victims agree that it is hard to move trafficking cases through the court, in part because victims are dealing with overwhelming physical and mental trauma. Many times, they can be hesitant to speak out.
Groups like Trafficking Hope Louisiana provide support and help for victims. George Mills, the group's president, said anytime a case results in punishment for an offender, it is a victory and an opportunity.
"Human trafficking is this nice little socially accepted word for slavery. It's a problem and people need to know it's actually happening here and be angry and outraged that it's happening," said Mills.
According to Mills, Louisiana is a hotspot for trafficking, especially Baton Rouge which acts as a type of crossroads between major cities. While lawmakers have recently passed tougher laws against sex trafficking, Mills said it is up to residents to pay attention.
"The public has to get angry about and say, this is not acceptable in our community, in our state," said Mills.
Mills said it is important that people speak up when they see something suspicious by contacting police or calling in to a national trafficking hotline. Concerned residents can also volunteer time with advocacy groups and help raise awareness.