U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley sentenced Fort Lauderdale man Van Lawson Williams, 49, to life in prison last week after being found guilty of charges of attempted sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking in violation of Title 18, United States Code, (section14 1591(a)). The sentencing was announced by a combination of participants of different agencies: Wifredo A. Ferrer, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Michael B. Steinbach, Acting Special Agent in Charge (Miami Field Office FBI); and Chief of Police of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department Franklin C. Adderly, it was disseminated in a press release on January 9, 2013.
A jury found Williams guilty of four counts of sex trafficking of minors, who were between the ages of 12 to 16. and one count of attempted sex trafficking on October 30, 2012. During the trial, six of the victims, the aggregate being runaways when they met Mr. Williams, attested to the fact that they were recruited to become prostitutes working out of Williams’ home located on the 2000 block of NW 30th Avenue. Based on trial evidence, Williams observed young girls in his own neighborhood; pursuing minor females who he believed to be runaways. After finding what he believed to be prospective candidates he then offered them free meals and lodging to stay with him at his Fort Lauderdale residence. After the girls would reach a positive decision to Williams’ offer, after a short time, he would change the rules and persuade them to become prostitutes. He told them that they were welcome to stay but needed to earn money to assist in paying the monthly household expenses. Without agreeing to chip in, they would have to leave. The young girls stated that they were directed to give the money that they obtained for their prostitution services to Williams, on most occasions, during their testimony. More than a few of the girls testified that Mr. Williams did in fact provide them with illegal drugs such as crack cocaine and marijuana. They also testified that Williams had sexual relations with them or tried to attempt to have sex with them.
Williams was originally arrested in May 2012. His first federal court appearance was before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer at his bond hearing. Based on the original criminal complaint, Williams, who is a convicted felon, would lure young girls to join up with him by offering meals and a place to stay. As previously mentioned he would also give the girls drugs. The girls also told authorities that customers paid money to rent the bedroom in Williams’ residence and then paid the girls up to $150 for services of a sexual nature. Originally, the complaint stated that money would be equally split with Williams however when the girls testified they said that in most cases Williams kept all the proceeds It was also alleged that Williams physically abused a few of the girls and brandished a machete, threatening one of them.
One of the girls read a letter she wrote to the court at the sentencing hearing, recounting the indignity she feels to this day when she sees herself in the mirror. In a letter to the court an additional victim, who was only 12 years old when Williams got her started turning tricks, wrote where she described the harm that she underwent as a consequence of Williams’ actions in and also commented of her dream to someday meet and marry a sweet man.
U. S. Attorney. Ferrer applauded the investigative energies of the FBI and the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. The prosecution’s case was handled by AUSAs Mark Dispoto and Corey Steinberg.
Sex Trafficking of Minors is a federal offense. As described above, the consequences of a conviction for sexual trafficking, especially those of minors are extremely severe and often include extended incarceration, including the possibility of life in prison. If found guilty of these charges, in its best outcome, the burden of a permanent criminal record and having to register as a sexual offender for the rest of one’s life will apply. It is crucial that if one is charged with a crime of sexual trafficking, to immediately contact a reputable criminal defense attorney, with experience in this field to properly handle the case.
Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer rated AV by Martindale Hubbel (pre-eminent) and a “Super Lawyer” recognized as being in the top 5% of his specialized field (criminal trial law) among Florida lawyers. He is considered a specialist by the Florida Bar in his field. Mr. Cohen has tried scores of cases over his 35 year career and is a member of the Florida and New York Bars. He is also admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh and Second Circuit.
If you or someone you know is facing charges of sexual trafficking or charges related to sexual trafficking, call Mr. Cohen’s office at 954-928-0059. Mr. Cohen’s experience as well as his previous work as a Federal Prosecutor can assist you by delivering the best possible outcome of the charges alleged by the prosecution.