Defendant Sold Heroin and Used Violence, Threats and Coercion to Compel Three Young Heroin-Addicted Women to Prostitute for His Profit in Wisconsin and Minnesota
Monta Groce, 30, of Sparta, Wisconsin, was convicted by a federal jury of three counts of sex trafficking by force, threats of force or coercion; one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation for prostitution; one count of interstate transportation for prostitution; one count of maintaining a property for drug trafficking; one count of using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and one count of witness retaliation. The verdict was announced by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil of the Western District of Wisconsin and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Shields of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division.
After deliberating for 10 hours, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts, with the exception of one count of attempted sex trafficking. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2016. The defendant faces a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“Groce supported the heroin epidemic impacting our country and exploited vulnerable young women by forcing them to engage in prostitution,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “I commend the trial team, investigators and victim advocates for their incredible work in this case. The Civil Rights Division will continue our vigorous efforts to work with our federal and state partners to hold human traffickers accountable and vindicate the rights of victims.”
“These cases are about horrible violence against women – Groce violently forced vulnerable victims into commercial sex,” said U.S. Attorney Vaudreuil. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate the exploitation of sex-trafficked women and children and we will continue to bring traffickers to justice on their behalf. These crimes, which took place in a small city, demonstrate that sex trafficking is not just a big city issue; it is happening in rural America too.”
“Human traffickers like Monta Groce, who prey on vulnerable women and children, will be aggressively investigated by the FBI from major cities to rural communities such as Sparta, Wisconsin, so the victims may be rescued and the perpetrators brought to justice,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Shields.
Evidence presented during the four-day trial, including the testimony of the three victims identified in the indictment as Jane Does 1 through 3, revealed that the defendant sold heroin in Sparta between December 2012 and April 2013. During that time, he enticed the victims to begin prostituting for his profit by providing them with heroin and pretending to be in love with them. As their dependency on him increased, he turned to violence and threatened to cut off their heroin supply if they disobeyed him, withheld money earned from prostitution or otherwise refused to prostitute. Groce further kept some of the victims in perpetual debt by fronting them heroin and charging fines as punishment. He advertised the victims on Backpage.com and paid other addicts to drive them from Wisconsin to Minnesota to prostitute. On one occasion, he gave heroin to a male heroin-addict to sell and then accused the man of stealing some of the heroin when he returned after the sale fell through. Groce beat the man in front of two of the victims, pointed a gun at him and threatened to kill him unless he paid Groce for the purportedly missing drugs.
According to her testimony, Jane Doe 1 began using heroin when she was 15 and met the defendant when she was 19, around January 2013. She testified that Groce was initially kind to her, called her beautiful and offered her a place to stay when she had nowhere else to go. He started selling her heroin, and shortly after, he manipulated her emotions to convince her to start prostituting for him. Groce required her to prostitute before giving her heroin, and if she disobeyed him, he punished her by cutting her off, causing her to suffer intense and painful withdrawal symptoms. On one occasion, he burned her face with a cigarette because she withheld money from him. She escaped with the help of Jane Doe 2. Later on in April 2014, the defendant beat, punched and kicked her while calling her a snake and a snitch because she had previously cooperated with law enforcement. After the beating, she was covered in blood and bruises.
Jane Doe 2 testified that she met the defendant when she was 21, around December 2012, after her mother died from a drug overdose. Her mother’s death caused her to start using heroin and the defendant became her dealer. She helped Jane Doe 1 escape from the defendant and then was forced herself to prostitute because, as the defendant put it, she caused him to lose money. On one occasion, when Jane Doe 2 refused to answer a prostitution call, Groce told her that she had to do the call to get her heroin. When she told him that he was not giving her a choice, he pointed to his gun and responded that she always has a choice. On another occasion, the defendant beat Jane Doe 2, throwing her into a bathtub because she had sex with a prostitution customer in his bed, rather than the designated bed for prostitution, which was occupied by another victim and customer.
Jane Doe 3 testified that on one occasion she misplaced a debit card containing money belonging to Groce. In response, Groce ordered her to do a prostitution call to pay him back. Jane Doe 3 had to work that evening at her regular job and told Groce that she did not want to do the call. Groce insisted and told her that if she refused then he would cut off her entire supply of heroin. Jane Doe 3 testified concerning the debilitating symptoms of heroin withdrawal and stated that she did the call for Groce because she feared suffering those symptoms.
The case was investigated by FBI’s Milwaukee Division with assistance from the Sparta Police Department and Monroe County, Wisconsin, Joint Investigative Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie S. Pfluger of the Western District of Wisconsin and Trial Attorney Shan Patel of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.