Defendants sentenced to a total of 64 years for sex trafficking of two 14-year-old girls

James Smith, 28, of Battle Creek, received a 20-year sentence in federal prison for sex trafficking a minor, Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge has announced. Smith is the fourth defendant sentenced in this case, which arose out of the sex trafficking of two local 14-year-old girls in Battle Creek in June of 2016.

The four defendants received a total sentence of 64 years’ imprisonment, which, in addition to Smith’s sentence, breaks down as follows:

• 20 Years – William Edwards, 24, recruited both 14-year old victims into sex trafficking;

• 20 Years – Dakota Walters, 25, coached and helped Edwards with sex trafficking the minors;

• 4 Years – Michael Noble, 22, knowingly drove one of the victims to several places for commercial sex.

In June of 2016, Edwards recruited the first 14-year-old victim by preying on her after she ran away from home and needed money. Edwards told her he knew how to help her make money and took her to Walters’ house, where the two men created an online advertisement for sex with the minor. They told her to act 18, despite knowing she was only 14. They also gave her cocaine, telling her it would help her stay up longer to make more money.

Edwards took half of all the money she made. When one client did not pay the minor, Edwards grabbed her neck and threw her against a wall. That girl eventually fled from Edwards.

After the first minor left, Edwards turned to another 14-year-old runaway, whom he eventually handed off to Smith. Smith forced the girl to engage in commercial sex for about a week. Like Edwards, Smith provided the girl with cocaine and recruited Noble, who provided Smith and the minor with cocaine in exchange for driving her to meet johns. Smith carried a gun, forced the girl to have sex with him, and took away her phone so she could not contact her family for approximately one week while trapped in a Battle Creek motel with Smith, Noble, and an 18-year-old female. The minor finally escaped when she located her phone while the others slept, texted her aunt, and ran.

“The Western District of Michigan has seen this pattern again and again, where grown men—and sometimes women—use drugs, money, and various promises to lure vulnerable teens into commercial sex for the adults’ own financial gain,” said Andrew Birge, Acting U.S. Attorney.

“The manipulation and exploitation trap the victims, who are often in desperate need of adult attention, financial security, and basic necessities.”

“Today’s sentencing effectively ends a heinous sex trafficking scheme that exploited two underage girls,” said Steve Francis, HSI Detroit special agent in charge. “Using our victim-centered approach, HSI can now focus on ensuring the survivors of these depraved acts continue to get the help they need to rebuild their lives.”

This case was the result of a collaborative investigative effort between Homeland Security Investigations and the Battle Creek Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tessa K. Hessmiller and Davin Reust prosecuted the cases.

For more information about Project Safe Childhood and the investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking in the Western District, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdmi/project-safe-childhood.