Charlotte man given life sentence for running prostitution ring

A Charlotte man was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for running a prostitution ring that trafficked women – some as young as 16 – throughout the East Coast and used violence to keep them in line.

The sentencing came 20 months after a federal jury convicted 33-year-old Shahid Hassan “Shake” Muslim of two counts of sex trafficking, one count of kidnapping, one count of producing child pornography, one count of witness tampering and five counts of promoting a prostitution business.

In sentencing Muslim, U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad ordered him to pay a total of $13,840 to the victims involved in the two sex trafficking counts. Muslim was charged with trafficking one of the victims for two months and another for three months.

Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, said the sentence won’t undo the harm Muslim inflicted. But “this sentence sends a clear message that people who engage in human trafficking and violate the most basic standards of human decency will face the full force of justice,” Gupta said after the sentencing.

During the weeklong trial in August 2014, testimony showed that Muslim recruited vulnerable women, ages 16 to 25, from the Charlotte area and advertised them for prostitution on the Internet from at least 2010 to Muslim’s arrest in November 2013.

Five of 12 women in Muslim’s enterprise testified they were lured into the ring with the promise they’d be part of a family, when they had none. Then he took their proceeds and threatened and beat them to make them stay.

There was testimony that Muslim accused one teenager of withholding money from him, handcuffing and beating her until she admitted keeping some of her earnings. His assaults on victims included burning one victim’s leg with a cigarette to teach her a lesson and punching another in the stomach with her eyes closed while he had her take a “DUI test.” He then dragged her by her hair into a bathroom and punched her until she vomited.

One woman said she fled Muslim’s “family” and reported him to police. But Muslim lured her to a hotel pretending to be a customer. The woman testified that he was dressed in black and wore a mask in the shape of a skull and he beat her, then shoved her into the trunk of his car. The attacks resumed at his home – with Muslim handcuffing the woman and dragging her into a shower. Muslim, she said, turned on the cold water and left her for the night.

Witnesses said Muslim never hit the women in their faces because it would “damage his merchandise.”

Prosecutors said that Muslim continued his efforts to intimidate and control victims after his arrests on state and federal charges. He convinced a kidnapping victim to submit a fake affidavit saying Muslim was innocent, prosecutors said. That resulted in the dismissal of state charges.

“Shahid Muslim is a ruthless predator who used lies to lure vulnerable young women and underage girls into his criminal enterprise,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose. “ ... My office will continue to aggressively prosecute those who engage in this illegal business that dehumanizes victims and strips them of their dignity.”

Reporter Michael Gordon contributed.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061; @dperlmutt