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Man who pretended to be military suitor convicted of human trafficking

By JOHN FUTTY | The Columbus Dispatch (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 15, 2016

A Reynoldsburg, Ohio man who lured women to his house by pretending he was in the military and using a fake name has become the first person convicted of human trafficking in Franklin County.

Thomas W. Williamson, 34, was sentenced on Monday to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of trafficking and two counts of sexual battery.

Common Pleas Judge Pat Sheeran imposed the sentence, which was recommended by the prosecution and defense as part of a plea agreement. In addition to prison, Williamson will be required to register as a sex offender every 90 days for the rest of his life.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the guilty plea marks the county's first human-trafficking conviction.

Williamson declined to make a statement during the hearing.

He and his girlfriend, Michelle N. Feldman, 31, used an online scheme to lure women, with Williamson creating a fake profile of a military man looking to start a relationship, said Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Rausch.

The two were indicted for crimes against three women who came to their townhouse on White Birch Court, where Williamson claimed to be the military man's "best friend," Reynoldsburg police Lt. Ron Wright has said. The victims were told that the military man was either stationed elsewhere or in a military hospital. The women were invited to stay with the couple at the rented Reynoldsburg home until the other man showed up.

That's when things went downhill," Wright has said.

The women were forced to perform slave labor and turned over thousands of dollars to the couple from outside jobs or, in one case, Social Security income. The women were physically abused and coerced into sex with the couple or other women in the house, Rausch said.

Each of the women moved in with Williamson and Feldman with the understanding that the military man would meet them there when he returned. Instead, Wright said, they were manipulated and blackmailed by the couple.

O'Brien has described what happened as "a brainwashing kind of thing."

The three women were involved with the couple during different times from April 2013 to March 2015. Williamson and Feldman were arrested on March 27, 2015 and indicted the next month.

Feldman pleaded guilty in July to attempted human trafficking, extortion and grand theft. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, with the prosecution and defense recommending a seven-year sentence for her. She had agreed to testify against Williamson if his case went to trial.

Williamson's attorney, Frederick Benton, called the case "very bizarre ... he obviously took advantage of the gullible character traits these women had."

None of the victims attended the hearing. Rausch said two of them supported the plea agreement; the other has been difficult to locate.

"These three women wanted to believe in something, and you thoroughly betrayed that belief," the judge told Williamson. "You treated them as property to be used and abused as you saw fit."

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©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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