A Texas man promised two underage girls lives filled with luxury and riches–but actually groomed them for prostitution and confiscated their earnings–got 30 years in federal prison.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon sentenced Antonio Rasheed Benjamin a.k.a. “Papi P” to 30 years, or 360 months, in federal prison for trafficking minor girls to perform commercial sex acts. Benjamin, 22, pleaded guilty in court on March 24. He must also serve 10 years of supervised release after completing his time behind bars, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez for the Southern District of Texas.
Under such supervised release, Benjamin will have to comply with strict requirements designed to restrict his access to children and the Internet. He will also be ordered to register as a sex offender.
The investigation into his activities began in March 2016 when a woman he reportedly assaulted contacted authorities. Court documents showed she told Houston police that Benjamin “pimped” a 17-year-old. When detectives interviewed this victim, she said her alleged perpetrator forced her to prostitute for him. She indicated her mother kicked her out of their home after which she lived with Benjamin. He transported her to high school every day while pimping her out in a Houston hotel at night. Benjamin taught her how to talk to clients on the phone and told her to charge $200 for one hour and $120 for half. He even ordered her to have sex with two or more customers per night. According to police, this minor victim had unprotected sex with Benjamin, who also physically assaulted her. The other victim told investigators that the girls who stripped in clubs for him had to make $100 a night or “there were consequences.”
He often left his victims stranded in unknown locations, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. One of the girls recounted an incident in which Benjamin punched her in the chest and said it hurt for days. Apparently, he knew both were minors.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said Benjamin lured his victims with promises of riches and lavish lifestyles but worked them as strippers and prostitutes. He took all of the money they earned. Benjamin also regularly transported women to and from strip clubs, rented hotel rooms for the purpose of commercial sex acts, and advertised the girls on backpage.com.
Breitbart Texas reported Backpage shut down its online adult sex advertisements after intense pressure from two state attorneys general and a U.S. Senate investigative panel. Still, some law enforcement officials and anti-sex trafficking groups expressed concerns that these Backpage ads continue to run in a different “dating” section.
Benjamin remains in federal custody pending a transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility.
The Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA), established in 2004, conducted the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston formed the HTRA as a collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies working together to target human traffickers and provide services to rescued victims. The website notes that sex trafficking poses a particular problem in the Southern District of Texas with its many miles of border with Mexico. Traffickers often prey on the poor and economically unstable, enticing them with false promises of good pay and better lives but deliver brutal and inhumane conditions as sex workers.
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