U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. of the Middle District of Alabama sentenced defendant Lonnie Mitchell, 36, of Montgomery, Alabama, to 60 years in prison for coercing several victims, including a minor, to engage in prostitution over the course of several years. The judge also ordered the defendant to pay over $950,000 in restitution to the victims.
In June 2022, following a five-day trial, a jury convicted the defendant of sex trafficking five victims by force, fraud, and coercion. The jury also found the defendant guilty of sex trafficking a minor, and three counts of coercing and enticing an individual to travel in interstate commerce for prostitution purposes.
“The defendant used unspeakable violence and manipulation of the victims’ substance abuse problems to control their every move and exploit them for his own financial gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Human trafficking is an atrocious crime that targets some of the most vulnerable members of our society, cruelly robbing them of their dignity and freedom. The Department of Justice remains committed to prioritizing human trafficking prosecutions and vindicating the rights of the victims of these heinous crimes.”
“Today’s sentence reflects the defendant’s horrific treatment and abuse of his victims,” said U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama. “Although their physical injuries will heal, the emotional damage caused by their suffering will last a lifetime. I am thankful for all of the agencies that worked together on this case, and for the courageous victims that testified at his trial. I hope this sentence will provide at least some consolation to the victims knowing that the defendant has been held accountable for his crimes.”
“Mr. Mitchell’s crimes were particularly atrocious, which was reflected in the severity of his sentencing,” said DHS Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HIS) Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Katrina Berger. “We hope this outcome will contribute to the victims’ healing process, but also serve as a warning to others who would victimize others for their own financial gain. HSI special agents and our law enforcement partners will continue to protect our communities from illegal trafficking and narcotics activity.”
According to the evidence presented in court, defendant Lonnie Mitchell targeted vulnerable victims who struggled with substance abuse issues and then manipulated their substance abuse problems for his benefit. He increased the victims’ use of heroin and encouraged them to use it intravenously. He then withheld heroin from the victims, causing extremely painful withdrawal sickness, if they violated one of his many controlling rules or otherwise did not provide services to enough commercial sex clients. Mitchell also used violence, threats of violence, and threats to send embarrassing information, photos, or videos to the victim’s loved ones in order to coerce compliance with his rules and to ensure that the victims provided him with sufficient money from prostitution. In addition, defendant Mitchell regulated how much and when the victims could eat and confiscated their identity documents and credit cards as part of his coercive scheme to control them.
Two co-defendants, Nettisia Mitchell and Donna Emmons, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. Nettisia Mitchell is the sister of defendant Lonnie Mitchell, and the court previously sentenced her to 120 months of confinement and ordered her to pay $2,000 in restitution for her role in her brother’s coercive scheme. Specifically, Nettisia witnessed her brother’s violence against a victim, yet harbored the victim and received the proceeds from the victim’s involvement in commercial sex. The court previously sentenced Emmons to 151 months of confinement and ordered her to pay $3,500 in restitution.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke, U.S. Attorney Stewart, and HSI Special Agent in Charge Berger made the announcement.
DHS-HSI, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and Montgomery Police Department investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Patrick Lamb and MaryLou Bowdre for the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorney Kate Alexander of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.