In the press, it was a “wide-reaching sex-trafficking operation” run by Somali Muslim gangs who forced “girls as young as 12” to sell sex in Minnesota and Tennessee.
In reality, the FBI operation, which led to charges against 30 individuals, sex-trafficking convictions for three, and an eight year legal battle, was a fiction crafted by two troubled teenagers, a member of the FBI’s human-trafficking task force, and an array of overzealous officials. An opinion released by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals shows that federal prosecutors had no evidence whatsoever to support their “child sex trafficking conspiracy” case outside the seriously flawed testimony of two teenagers, one of whom had “been diagnosed as insane and was off her medication,” and false statements by the FBI.
“We conclude from our careful review of the trial transcript and record that, if the prosecution proved any sex trafficking at all (and we have serious doubts that it did), then at best it proved two separate, unrelated, and dissimilar conspiracies, involving different defendants, albeit with the same alleged victim, namely Jane Doe 2,” states the 6th Circuit opinion.
But Jane Doe 2’s story was likely completely fabricated, with help from a member of an FBI human-trafficking task force. The officer was later caught lying to the grand jury and lying during a detention hearing, while Doe and the state’s other primary witness were, according to the court, almost entirely “unworthy of belief.”
Back in 2010, the FBI claimed that “between 2000 and 2010, members and associates of three affiliated Somali gangs transported underage Somali and African-American females from the Minneapolis area to Nashville for the purpose of having the females engage in sex acts for money” and some of the victims were “13 years of age and younger.” The FBI described it as its biggest human trafficking success to date.
A district judge threw out charges against three of the men because they had been minors at the time the alleged crimes occurred. The next nine defendants were tried, with jurors returning not guilty verdicts for six of them.
The other three defendants were initially found guilty of sex trafficking of a minor, Jane Doe 2. But by the end of 2012, a federal court had overturned the convictions of three men, raising questions about the veracity of the victim’s testimony. The government wasn’t giving up though, and appealed.
The appeal failed, and the three men were confirmed innocent. Beyond the dubious nature of the “overall conspiracy,” judges also found scant evidence “that sex trafficking had happened at all.”
The FBI’s entire case had rested on the testimony of Jane Doe 2, as gathered by an FBI sex-trafficking task force member. The court described Doe as “an Americanized teenager” in a conservative Somali immigrant family and “habitual runaway who had a history with the police.”
The parents declined to let the FBI agent talk to their daughter after her last juvenile arrest, so the two began meeting secretly at school. “These meetings produced a story in which Jane Doe 2 was not a troubled runaway or juvenile delinquent, but was instead an innocent child taken in by a Somali gang who used her for sex, either as a prostitute or for free sex with the gang members,” states the court.
The story took some other odd turns.
First, despite countless opportunities, Jane Doe 2 had never claimed before she was a sex-trafficking victim, including to any police officer during the many times she was apprehended as a runaway, nor at juvenile detention, nor during her counseling there. Instead, the court opined that the FBI agent likely exaggerated or fabricated important aspects of this story, noting the final reports frequently referred to sex for money while that assertion was conspicuously absent in the FBI’s original handwritten notes. And Jane Doe 2 herself furthered the district court’s suspicion when she testified on cross examination that the FBI misstated facts in the reports, adding to and omitting things from her statements.
Elsewhere, the district court caught the FBI agent lying to the grand jury and, later, lying during a detention hearing. The defense pointed out that the FBI also lied on an application to get Jane Doe 2’s family $3,000 from a victim’s compensation fund, by claiming “abduction.” Jane Doe 2 flatly denied an abduction.
A second witness, known as Jane Doe 5, apparently suffered from an undisclosed mental illness and was off of her medication during the trial. “She did not know what day or month it was, she misidentified or could not identify many defendants, she contradicted herself repeatedly on major issues, such as whether or not she had sex for money, and she argued with counsel over the smallest of details,” according to the court.
Ultimately, the judges came away with “acute concern,” based on a “painstaking review of the record,” that the prosecution’s entire case may be “fictitious” and the state’s two primary witnesses “unworthy of belief.” Both women “repeatedly contradicted, disavowed, and refuted their own testimony,” the judges note, “while other portions of their testimony defied belief or were rendered implausible by indisputable contradictory evidence.”