An ex-New Hampshire National Guard commander has filed an appeal seeking to overturn his 15-year sentence for his part in a San Antonio, Texas, sex trafficking ring. As reported by Breitbart Texas in November of 2014, the Colonel said he was contacting the female prostitute as part of a research project for his Army War College thesis.
Lt. Col. Raymond Valas was found guilty in November 2014 of sex trafficking of a minor. Prosecutors argued that he was in Texas on a work trip in 2013 when he paid to have sex with the young girl. Valas admitted that he met the girl but said it was only to interview her for research that he was doing for Syracuse University.
Valas made contact with the teenage prostitute during his stay at the Airport Hilton in San Antonio on August 26, 2013, according to an article by the San Antonio Express-News. Valas claimed he did not have sex with the prostitute and passed a lie-detector test. The judge did not allow the polygraph results to be admitted.
The teenage prostitute testified that Valas had sex with her on two occasions and paid her $150 for each sexual encounter according to another article in the Express-News.
Valas claimed to not know the prostitute was a minor. The defense presented testimony of the trafficking victim’s testimony in two previous trials where she said she was instructed by her pimps to say she was over the age of eighteen.
Breitbart Texas reviewed numerous documents the federal government admitted as evidence showing several pages of phone numbers Valas allegedly used to call and text message advertisers on Backpage.com, a webpage commonly used to advertise prostitutes.
The government argued that the girl was clearly underage according to a report by the Concord Monitor. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barr claimed the girl had braces with pink bands on her teeth.
Barr also testified that the girl’s testimony could be trusted because her story had remained consistent when conveying her story to strangers that included law enforcement officers, prosecutors, probation officers and sexual-assault examiners.
As for his research claim, four fellow Army officers, not his superiors, testified that Valas told them he was contacting prostitutes for his work while out of town. U.S. Attorney Bettina Richardson mocked this testimony by asking, “Seriously, he’s been researching prostitutes for twelve years and never produces a research product about it? Is that reasonable or ridiculous?”
Moreover, despite the Pentagon’s zero tolerance policy towards sex trafficking, four of Valas’ fellow officers testified in his defense. The officers each said they saw nothing wrong with Valas reaching out to prostitutes, or that they would have to know the context in which he did so. One of those officers, a sexual assault response coordinator for the New Hampshire National Guard, was admonished by federal Judge Fred Biery for being evasive in his answers.
According to the Concord Monitor, Valas filed an appeal last week arguing several grounds for reversal of his conviction.
Valas is appealing on the theory that the jury was incorrectly charged. He said the jury should have been told that he could only be convicted if he knew that the girl was under the age of 18 or recklessly disregarded how old she was. Defense counsel on appeal has argued that the jury was incorrectly told that Valas could be convicted if he had a reasonable opportunity to view her and she was under 18.
The former New Hampshire National Guard member is also appealing saying that prosecutors withheld and destroyed exculpatory evidence. According to the Monitor, appellate counsel is alleging that prosecutors effectively destroyed Valas’s cell phone before trial and failed to disclose photographs of the alleged victim with the jurors until later. Defense counsel argues, “The government waited until it had presented a cleaned-up version of (the girl) and had played up her for the jury before it disclosed photographs that showed (her) dressed and posed provocatively, looking anything but child-like.” “The late disclosure of these exculpatory photographs prejudiced Valas,” his lawyer argues.
Valas also urges on appeal that the jury was not instructed on this alibi defense. One of the four men who testified on Valas’s behalf said Valas was at a hotel restaurant at the time that the girl said she and Valas had sex in his hotel room on August 26, 2013.
The Monitor reported that Valas led a four-month trip to El Salvador, and had been working on a research fellowship in Syracuse. The report discussed the rise of MS-13, a Salvadoran gang. Prosecutors noted during trial that the report made almost no mention of sex trafficking.
Breitbart Texas previously reported about the trial and convictions of Malcom Deandre Copeland and Amber Doak who conspired with Marcus Deshawn Wright in trafficking this minor female and another child. Wright was also convicted of two counts of sex trafficking of minors and one count of production of child pornography according to an article on KSAT.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter@LanaShadwick2