A jury in western Iowa has found a man guilty of “human trafficking” for recruiting two teenage runaways from Nebraska for the purpose of prostitution and performing in strip clubs. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case last week in Denison, Iowa. Iowa AG’s spokesperson Bob Brammer says 37 year old Leonard Ray Russell is believed to be the first person convicted of the crime in Iowa. The law, banning “human trafficking,” took effect in 2006.
Brammer says prosecutors accused Russell of having the teenage girls engage in prostitution and dancing in strip clubs and then collecting the girl’s compensation. Russell, who has used addresses in Omaha and Sioux City, Iowa, instructed the girls to call him “Sir.” The girls testified in court that they met Russell in Omaha in August 2007, shortly after they ran away from a juvenile home in Fremont, Nebraska. Over the next week, the girls – who were 15 and 16 at the time – said Russell took them to Rockford, Illinois and Davenport and Denison, Iowa.
“They also testified that they didn’t like what they were doing and felt ashamed, but that they had no where else to go,” Brammer said. “They had given all their money they had made to Russell in exchange for food, housing, transportation and so on.” A 19 year old prostitute, known only to the girls as “Jazzie,” is accused of helping Russell convince the teens to travel with them to Davenport. Jazzie, who’s real name is Marcia Ryan, is facing similar charges of human trafficking and has a preliminary court hearing set for this Friday. An anonymous tip led Denison police to rescue one of the girls from Big Earl’s Key Club in Denison, where Russell had her working. The other girl was picked up in Washington, D.C. – where she was sent to reportedly work as a prostitute and live with Russell’s cousin. Brammer says this may be the first conviction for human trafficking in Iowa, but it likely won’t be the last.
“In general, we think that human trafficking is a pretty significant problem in Iowa and may be a bigger problem than most of us realize,” Brammer said. “Some of the victims may well tend to be disadvantaged, poor kids or kids that don’t have much home support and it can occur in small towns as we saw in this situation.” In addition to two counts of human trafficking, the jury found Russell guilty of ongoing criminal conduct and pandering. Russell, who’s awaiting sentencing in the Crawford County Jail, could face up to 65 years in prison.