Monta Groce, 30, of Sparta, Wisconsin, was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for using violence, threats and coercion to compel three young women suffering from heroin addiction to prostitute for his profit in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The sentence 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 Special Agent in Charge R. Justin Tolomeo of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division.
On July 15, 2016, a jury convicted Groce of three counts of sex trafficking by force, threats 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. A restitution hearing will be scheduled at a later date.
“Groce beat, tormented and enslaved vulnerable young women struggling with heroin addiction,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “He treated them as sex slaves rather than human beings, and his unconscionable actions offend the most basic standards of human decency. Nothing can undo the harm Groce inflicted or the pain he caused, but hopefully this sentence provides some measure of closure and relief for the victims.”
“Sex trafficking is modern slavery, and cannot be tolerated in any civilized nation,” said U.S. Attorney Vaudreuil. “These crimes, which took place in a small Wisconsin city, demonstrate that sex trafficking is not just a big city issue; it is a horrible problem in rural America too. We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who violently exploit vulnerable victims in Wisconsin.”
“Sex trafficking has no boundaries and can occur anywhere,” said Special Agent in Charge Tolomeo. “When combined with drug addiction, the results are devastating. Groce used heroin and violence to force victims into prostitution. The FBI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to target these predators.”
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 Dec. 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. Groce used violence and the threat of violence to keep the victims under his control. On one occasion, in full view of two of the victims, he beat an associate and pointed a gun at the man because Groce believed the man had stolen a small quantity of 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.