Five underage girls were plied with drugs, threatened with violence and driven to hotels across Colorado for men to pay them for sex, according to details from an indictment of 14 people allegedly involved with the child-sex ring.
“It is very, very disturbing,” said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, announcing the indictment Monday.
The 70-count indictment alleges that Patrick Lloyd McGowan, 22; Chad Armand Gow, 20; Roy Manuel Ibarra-Gonzales, 20; and Bryan Steven Burns, 20; oversaw the ring that prostituted girls under the age of 18 and also sold methamphetamine and cocaine.
McGowan, Gow, Ibarra-Gonzales and Burns are suspected of arranging “out calls” for girls through the Internet and coercing their victims through the use of drugs and threats of violence. They also are accused of transporting children to locations in Denver, Boulder, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction and Lakewood for sex.
If convicted of trafficking children, a Class 2 felony, the sentence for each could be as much as 24 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.
The girls and their services as “escorts” were advertised on the Backpage.com website, which has come under fire from prosecutors throughout the country.
The website, owned by Village Voice Media, which also owns the Denver-based Westword weekly newspaper, was targeted by Suthers and 45 other prosecutors from the National Association of Attorneys General in an August letter that accused the website of being a hub for child prostitution. The prosecutors sought detailed information about the website’s advertising practices.
“We were hoping they would do something radical like Craigslist,” said Suthers, alluding to Craigslist’s ban in 2010 of its adult-services listings. “As of yet, (Backpage.com) has not. … We are going to continue to apply the pressure. Hopefully a vivid case like this will help.”
An e-mailed request to Village Voice Media’s attorney for an interview late Monday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Village Voice Media executives have said they already try to police the advertisements and ask posters not to engage in criminal activity such as prostitution.
Suthers said that the girls were not specifically advertised as being underage but that clients who use the services learn which groups provide underage prostitutes. Suthers would not identify the ages of the girls.
“Human trafficking and child prostitution are tragic crimes, from the devastating effects they have on their victims to the mere fact that the use and sale of persons persists in our world today,” Suthers said.
“Sex trafficking is a worldwide problem, a national problem, and there is not reason to … believe it isn’t a Colorado problem,” he said.
Nine others were named in the indictment, charged with aiding and abetting the sex ring, including destroying evidence, driving the girls to hotels or providing the girls a place for sex for money: Santino Santovena, 21; Joshua Saville, 21; Levi John Mooridian, 26; Louis Gabriel Archuleta, 21; Matthew Anthony Dominguez, 20; Heath Harris Figler, 18; Chance Alvarado, 20; Jeremaih Ames, 20; and Carissa Kay Krause, 19.
One alleged john was indicted, 49-year-old John Malott of Broomfield, who allegedly met with the girls in hotels in Denver, Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Boulder.
Suthers said the investigation began in the Wheat Ridge and Lakewood police departments. Authorities soon figured out that the girls were being trafficked throughout the state and the attorney general’s office was summoned. A grand jury heard the evidence and issued indictments about a week ago, Suthers said.
All but two of the suspects had been placed into custody by Monday evening, Suthers said.
It is the second human trafficking case the attorney general’s office has prosecuted. The first case, brought in October 2010, resulted in an eight-year prison term for its lead defendant.