Terrence Yarbrough, aka, "T-Rex," 37, of Memphis, Tenn., was convicted Wednesday in federal court on 10 counts of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud, the Justice Department said.
"This verdict sends a clear message that human trafficking will not be tolerated in the United States," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The defendant brutally exploited vulnerable young women and girls and deprived them of their rights and dignity so he could profit by selling their bodies. Securing justice on behalf of the victims of modern-day slavery is one of the highest priorities of the Civil Rights Division."
Previous Story: Man at center of sex trafficking ring in court
"The brutal and depraved acts that this individual inflicted upon these women are almost impossible to fathom," said Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. "The conviction of Yarbrough reiterates this office's firm commitment to bring sex traffickers to justice. Our office's dedicated civil rights unit will continue to prosecute these cases in order to protect the vulnerable and innocent victims of such crimes."
At the trial, victims recounted a series of violent acts perpetrated by Yarbrough to coerce them into prostituting for him, including beatings with belts, wooden coat hangers, crowbars, padlocks and dog chains. They also testified to being thrown down stairs, having their heads smashed in car doors, having their legs burned with irons and being scalded with boiling water.
Yarbrough faces a minimum of 15 years in prison with no parole, and could be sentenced to up to life in prison. U.S. District Court Judge S. Thomas Anderson will sentence Yarbrough on April 18, 2013.
"Sex traffickers can be violent abusers or simply subtle manipulators who prey upon those whose circumstances of life make them vulnerable, and cruelly exploit their victims for profit," said Aaron T. Ford, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The FBI is committed to working closely with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable human traffickers for their crimes and get help for the victims in these heartbreaking cases."
Evidence presented at trial included the testimony of 10 victims identified in the indictment, as well as several eyewitnesses and others. Numerous witnesses testified that Yarbrough repeatedly enticed vulnerable women as young as 15 years old into prostitution with false promises of love, family and prosperity. Any time a victim refused to engage in prostitution, he resorted to threats, intimidation and violence. The jury heard testimony that Yarbrough's pattern of recruitment, exploitation, and violent coercion continued for years before his 2009 arrest in St. Louis.
One of the victims testified that Yarbrough forced her to engage in prostitution the entire time she was pregnant with his child. He frequently beat her on the stomach when she did not want to comply with his demands. He had her working as a prostitute in Tunica in her eighth month of pregnancy when he induced her labor through a severe beating. Yarbrough drove her back to Memphis and dropped her off at a hospital.
The day after she left the hospital following childbirth, Yarbrough forced her to resume prostituting. Sometime later, Yarbrough smashed her on the head with a lamp and kicked out her front teeth when she tried to stop prostituting for him.
Another victim testified that Yarbrough lured her into prostitution by promising to reunite her with their children, and then beat her severely when she insisted on seeing them and refused to continue working. Yarbrough punched her in the face so hard he broke three of her teeth. On another occasion, he beat her knees with a metal pipe and caused injuries which continue to affect her. She also testified that Yarbrough threatened to prostitute their nine-year-old daughter.
The jury heard testimony that one exhausted victim slept through a phone call from a client after serving prostitution clients for days on end with almost no sleep. When Yarbrough found out she missed the call, he smashed her head into a car door, dragged her by the hair to his hotel room, and beat her with his belt. Jurors also saw a letter addressed to that victim and signed by Terrence Yarbrough stating that he was proud of how she did not scream while he beat her with the belt.
Witnesses further testified that Yarbrough bragged about his beatings of some victims to other victims to let them know what would happen to them if they disobeyed him. Jurors also saw the "T-Rex" logos Yarbrough tattooed on four separate victims, and heard that he claimed that they had been "branded" as his property. Testimony and jail recordings showed that Yarbrough confiscated his victims' identification documents as well as all their money to make it difficult for them to escape.
Jurors also heard testimony that Yarbrough conspired with his mother, Norma Yarbrough Webb, 65, and Michelle Johnson, 40, to fraudulently obtain food stamp benefits while Yarbrough was incarcerated. Johnson and Webb previously pled guilty to related charges.
"The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at USDA is committed to the investigation and prosecution of individuals and retailers who defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as the food stamp program. Protecting the integrity of the SNAP is a major investigative priority for OIG. OIG agents helped determine that Terrence Yarborough committed Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) fraud by submitting false information to apply for SNAP benefits, and using the benefits to fund his prostitution operation. The Tennessee Department of Human Service - Investigations Division, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney's Office did an excellent job in this joint investigation. We look forward to working with them on future endeavors," stated Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Southeast Region.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the St. Louis Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti and Trial Attorney Benjamin J. Hawk of the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.