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Warrant: Man accused of sex trafficking soldier threatened to tell her commander

By MONICA VENDITUOLI | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 6, 2016

A man who forced a 19-year-old Fort Bragg soldier into prostitution last year threatened to tell the soldier's commander about her exchanging sex for money, new court documents say.

The court documents also revealed that the soldier was the victim of sex trafficking as a juvenile.

Jibri Quandel Thomas, 23, of the 3200 block of Brookemere Place, was charged by the Fayetteville Police Department in connection with exploiting the soldier. He turned himself in to Fayetteville police detectives Jan. 11 and was indicted in federal court Jan. 28.

A superseding indictment in federal court filed April 25 charged Thomas with two counts of transporting for prostitution and racketeering for prostitution.

The Cumberland County District Attorney's Office dismissed the charges against Thomas in state court Feb. 23. His case is still pending in federal court in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of North Carolina Court.

Lt. David McLaurin, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the department declined any comment on the case.

Stacey Rubain, a lawyer based in Winston-Salem, is representing Thomas in the case.

"Mr. Thomas denies his guilt in this case and has entered a plea of not guilty to all charges," Rubain said in an email May 9.

On May 24, a plea agreement was placed in Thomas' case file. However, court documents indicate that Thomas has neither rejected nor accepted the plea agreement.

The Fayetteville Observer was unsuccessful in reaching Rubain on the status of the plea agreement.

The 19-year-old woman was a victim of sex trafficking for five months while she was a soldier living in the barracks at Fort Bragg, court documents said. She was in the 82nd Airborne Division, according to Army Human Resources Command spokesman Ray Gall.

"Army policy precludes discussion of character of service," Gall said when asked why she was discharged.

The Fayetteville Observer does not identify victims of sex crimes.

Prior sex trafficking

Fayetteville detectives interviewed the soldier Dec. 21 after receiving a tip that she might be a victim of human trafficking, a search warrant said.

Early in the interview, the soldier told police that she became a prostitute when she was under the age of 18, prior to becoming a soldier and prior to meeting Thomas. While the soldier described herself as being a prostitute to police, sex trafficking experts say she was actually the victim of human trafficking due to her age.

Pete Twedell, director of a local counter-human trafficking program, said there is "no such thing as a child prostitute."

"It is automatically human trafficking," he said.

Twedell is director of 5 Sparrows, a part of the nonprofit Fayetteville Dream Center that helps crime victims.

Federal law prohibits children and teenagers under the age of 18 from prostituting, or engaging in sex for money. Those who knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain or maintain a person under the age of 18 for that purpose can be charged with sex trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.

"The first John that meets with her is her trafficker," Twedell explained.

Twedell and Pam Strickland, the founder and CEO of the Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking nonprofit group, both say children who have been victims of human trafficking and other sex crimes in the past are more likely to be the victims of human trafficking in the future.

Strickland said sex trafficking victims, like the soldier, suffer repeatedly because they do not know about or do not have access to resources to help them heal.

"She probably did not receive the counseling and treatment to get over the past trauma, so that would make her more susceptible to being trafficked again," Strickland said.

Social media meet-up

According to the search warrant, the soldier told police she met Thomas on the social media app MeetMe.com. The free app connects people to random strangers in the area.

The search warrant did not specify the content or time period in which the conversations occurred.

After talking through the app, the duo agreed to meet in person in August 2015 at McDonald's in Spring Lake on Murchison Road, the soldier told police. The restaurant is near the intersection of Bragg Boulevard, just outside of a Fort Bragg gate.

During their first meeting, Thomas "promised" the soldier that he could help her make extra money if she prostituted for him, the warrant said.

He added that he would advertise her services on the social media site BackPage.com, a classified advertising website that has garnered controversy for its adult postings section. The soldier told police that she agreed under the condition that Thomas evenly split the earnings with her. Thomas then drove the soldier to multiple hotels in the area where she engaged in sex acts with people for money.

Despite the fact that the soldier told police she initially agreed to work for Thomas, Twedell said at that point she was already a sex trafficking victim.

"If he receives anything from her, then he is a trafficker," Twedell said.

It is not unusual, Twedell said recalling past conversations with victims, for traffickers to give their victims a degree of control in the beginning. Over time, the traffickers increase their control.

"It typically starts as a relationship or some sort of agreement, but over time the victim's ability to choose to walk away greatly diminishes," Twedell said.

This happened in the case of the soldier and Thomas. The soldier told police that at the beginning, she was "earning good money" through the agreement. However, the soldier got into a fight with Thomas in Raleigh after she discovered that he was stealing money from her, the warrant said. The warrant did not specify when the dispute in Raleigh occurred.

The soldier and another person being prostituted by Thomas left Raleigh and came back to Fayetteville, vowing to not engage in sex acts for money for Thomas.

"(The soldier) said Thomas became upset when she left and threatened to tell her commander she was prostituting," the search warrant said.

After threatening the soldier, Thomas continued trafficking her sexually throughout the region until around Dec. 21, the warrant said. The document doesn't give a time frame for the resumption of the activity.

Other victims

Two days after interviewing the soldier, Fayetteville police received a call from a family member of another one of Thomas' sex trafficking victims.

The family member, who lives in Washington, D.C., told police that she was trying to find her cousin, who she believed was one of Thomas' sex trafficking victims.

She told police that she had reached out to Thomas on Facebook, trying to determine her location. The family member said Thomas began threatening her on Facebook. He told the family member that her cousin was one of his prostitutes.

The family member added that she believed Thomas was either in Virginia or North Carolina.

Through the course of the investigation, police also found prostitution advertisements on BackPage.com posted by Thomas.

And, officers discovered that Thomas had been previously charged with promoting prostitution. On July 8, 2014, Thomas was charged with two misdemeanor charges of promoting prostitution, an arrest report said.

The charges were dismissed by the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office on Sept. 4, 2014.

According to a factual basis court document entered in Thomas' federal case May 26, Thomas waived his Miranda rights before being interviewed on video camera by Fayetteville police officers Dec. 21.

"Thomas denied being (in his words) a 'pimp,' but admitted that he provided rides in exchange for money and also admitted that he allowed women who were advertised on a certain website known to host advertisements associated with prostitution to use his account with that site and his phone to advertise for 'escort services,'" the factual basis document said.

Thomas admitted to officers that he knew a 30-year-old woman who is referred to as Jane Doe 2 in the superseding indictment.

Jane Doe 2 told investigators that Thomas transported her from North Carolina to Virginia, South Carolina, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio during the course of her prostitution, the factual basis document said.

If Thomas accepts the plea agreement, he will plead guilty to one count of transporting for prostitution. By pleading guilty to that charge, the plea agreement said that he will be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and pay a maximum fine of no more than $250,000.

He is next scheduled to appear in court Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Winston-Salem, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of North Carolina Court public information officer Randy Tysinger said.

Other victims

An official with the 82nd Airborne Division said he is unaware of any other incidents of human trafficking involving soldiers.

"We are unaware of any soldiers within the division who have been victims of human trafficking," said Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, the public affairs officer for the 82nd Airborne Division.

Twedell, however, has heard about several in recent years.

Advocates emphasized that human trafficking victims come from all walks of life, including the military.

Twedell said he has heard of at least four or five cases in which soldiers were victims of human trafficking in the Cape Fear region in the past four years. A national sex workers' advocate, Jody Williams, said she has also heard of multiple cases in which soldiers and veterans were victims of sex trafficking.

Williams is the founder of Sex Workers Anonymous, an advocacy group for men and women in the sex industry.

Williams said through her work she has found that more and more soldiers and veterans are getting involved in the sex industry.

"I've seen a huge increase in male and female veterans coming back from the service disabled and turning to sex work to get by," Williams said. "There are active duty military, too, that I hear from."

While many of the soldiers and veterans Williams has talked to entered the sex industry under their own volition, she said some have told her that the situation they were in evolved into sex trafficking.

"It's mixed," Williams said. "I'd say about 90 percent is economic need with the soldiers."

Strickland said she has not heard of any cases of soldiers other than Thomas' 19-year-old victim. She said she hopes that the unfortunate ordeal for the soldier helps educate the public on how vulnerable everyone is to sex trafficking.

"People have this idea in their head of what a victim looks like," Strickland said. "Anybody can become a victim of human trafficking."

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©2016 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com

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