The trial of an accused pimp and sex trafficker starts Tuesday in federal court, offering a glimpse into the world of human trafficking in Charlotte.
Federal court documents describe Shahid Hassan Muslim, 31, as a technologically savvy and brutally violent pimp, who arranged for prostitutes as young as 15 to meet up with customers in hotel rooms along the East Coast, including in Charlotte, Greensboro and Myrtle Beach.
Muslim, who is also known as “Sharp,” faces charges for kidnapping and witness tampering as well. Jury selection starts on Tuesday in the case.
According to court documents, Muslim’s prostitutes connected with clients on the websites Backpage.com and Craigslist, pages that experts say are growing hubs for sex trafficking.
“I don’t know if there’s a way to measure how much prostitution is going on on Backpage and Craigslist, but I perceive there is a lot more than we know of,” said Dr. Joseph Kuhns, a criminologist at UNC Charlotte who has studied sex trafficking.
Kuhns said sex traffickers have been brought to trial, but “a lot of them are just pleading (guilty) and taking the lesser charge” instead of going through a public trial.
The case against Muslim started in October 2011. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers conducted an undercover prostitution sting by setting up meetings with girls on Backpage.com. An officer met a prostitute who had just turned 18 at a Marriott Hotel in Charlotte.
As police investigated, they learned more about Muslim’s enterprise, according to court documents:
• In 2012, he rented a two-story house in northeast Charlotte where he kept the girls, dropped them off to meet clients and took the money they earned. Court documents say Muslim installed software on their phones that allowed him to track their calls and text messages.
• He beat up the girls, especially if they tried to keep any of the money – often hitting them with brass knuckles or shooting them with a Taser, the documents say.
• While in the Mecklenburg County Jail, documents say he used other inmates’ identification numbers to call three of the girls to urge them to recant their statements and stop talking to police. Two of them did so.Observer news partner WFAE contributed. to this story.