A federal grand jury indicted a Charlotte man this week, accusing him of transporting young girls across the state line then forcing them to become prostitutes.
Tony Lee Drum, 32, becomes the latest in a growing list of Charlotteans accused or convicted of marketing girls and women for sex.
A nationwide advocacy group says North Carolina has the ninth-highest number of cases involving trafficking for sex and labor. And U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins of Charlotte has made the trade in forced prostitution and labor a priority of her staff.
“We’ve had human trafficking in the city of Charlotte for decades,” she told Observer news partner WFAE this week. “What we haven’t done is recognized it. What we haven’t done is mobilized to do something about it.”
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According to government reports, some 300,000 children in the United States become victims of the commercialized sex trade each year. One survey found that 70 percent of the victims were sold online. The average age of the boys and girls when they turned their first trick: 13 to 14.
The increase in the sex trade tracks with an explosion of child pornography online. In 2011, the National Center for Missing Exploited Children reviewed 17.3 million images and videos of pornography as part of its victim-identification program – almost a 4,000 percent increase over four years.
Drum was arrested last year on charges that he met a 14-year-old South Carolina girl online, brought her to Charlotte then forced her to turn tricks. He was taken into custody after police found the girl walking alone on a city street and discovered she was a missing person.
New documents filed in federal court this week accuse Drum of committing the same crimes with another girl.
The indictment charges Drum with two counts each of sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion, and coercion or enticement of a minor female.
The story spelled out against Drum in federal documents is a familiar one in the trafficking trade. They meet girls and women at bars, on the street or online. The women are runaways or homeless or recent immigrant arrivals without papers or contacts.
In short order, they are turned into sex slaves. The list of court cases in Charlotte continues to grow.
• On Oct. 28, U.S. District Judge Bob Conrad sentenced Juan Brandon Gray-Sommerville of Charlotte to more than 18 years in prison for sex trafficking a minor. According to court documents, Gray-Sommerville met the girl online in 2012, then started exchanging texts with her. He later picked her up in front of her school, created an online advertisement marketing her then forced the girl to have sex with two men.
• On Aug. 12, a federal jury convicted Shahid Hassan “Sharp” Muslim of sex trafficking, kidnapping, producing child pornography and witness tampering. He faces up to life imprisonment for running what prosecutors describe as a brutal East Coast prostitution ring involving 12 women, ages 16-25.
• In June, three accused Charlotte pimps were among the 281 arrests in the FBI’s “Operation Cross Country VIII,” a nationwide crackdown on sex trafficking that led to the recovery of 168 children forced to be prostitutes.
• Two Charlotteans and a Monroe resident were among the 23 defendants that pleaded guilty last year in “Operation Dark Night,” the federal investigation of a sex-trafficking ring that spanned the Carolinas, parts of Georgia and Florida and Mexico. Federal documents indicate that in 2011, 24 women from Mexico, “some very young,” were smuggled into Charlotte and held for other pimps.
Mayer “Maye” Sanchez-Calderon and Claudio “Borrego” Sanchez-Calderon, both of Charlotte, were sentenced in April to 15 years in prison. Both were ordered to pay $195,000 in restitution to their victims. Antonio “Joel” Ramirez-Catalan of Monroe received a 48-month sentence.
Researcher Maria David contributed.