A convicted felon from Spokane faces a federal charge of sex trafficking after two women told federal agents he forced them to perform sex acts for money.
The women also told the agents the man threatened severe beatings if they did not charge enough for the encounters, which he advertised online.
Seth Randles, 34, appeared in federal court Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers and pleaded not guilty to the charge of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Jones successfully argued that Randles posed too much of a threat to the community to be released at this point. Randles was booked into the Spokane County Jail on Tuesday.
Randles pleaded guilty in 2003 to first-degree robbery and burglary in a case where a woman was pistol-whipped during the theft of marijuana and money. He was sentenced to more than five years in prison following that conviction, and is looking at a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison for the sex trafficking charge. He likely would receive more than 20 years based on his criminal history, Jones said.
“He has every reason to run,” Jones told Rodgers. “He should not be released. The victims in this case should not have to live in fear. The only way to ensure their safety is to keep him in custody.”
Appointed defense attorney Amy Rubin, of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, argued that her client’s previous conviction “was 15 years ago.” She noted that the charges in that case were for violent crime but that there was no evidence to suggest that Randles assaulted the victims.
As for the current charge, Rubin said her client has deep ties to the community and would agree to electronic-home monitoring. She said the evidence presented did not support the prosecution’s claims about the extent of Randles’ alleged violence.
“Mr. Jones is talking about how badly these women were beaten, but none of that evidence is before the court right now,” she said.
According to court records, FBI agent Ian Burns began an investigation earlier this month after a woman came forward and said she had been a victim for the past two years of sex trafficking by Randles. She also gave the agent a name of a woman who was victimized by Randles for four years, starting in 2009 when that victim was still a juvenile.
The woman told investigators that Randles used a two-story townhouse at 428 E. Dalke Ave. in Spokane “as a base of operation where he would sexually traffic women,” the agent wrote.
The victim said Randles would take photographs of her and two other victims and post them on the website Backpage.com.
“The victim reported that she performed sex acts at the residence for money, which was then collected by Randles,” Burns wrote. “The victim reported that Randles would violently attack her if she did not comply.”
A second victim told Burns earlier this month that she became romantically involved with Randles in 2013. The suspect later asked her to perform sex acts for money, and she reluctantly agreed.
As part of the ploy, Randles would make the second victim memorize lines to tell prospective clients. She “was violently attacked when she failed to properly recite the lines over the phone with the clients,” Burns wrote. The woman “was not allowed to write down the lines because Randles told her it could become ‘evidence.’ ”
Randles taught the victim how to screen clients to make sure they were not law enforcement, and bought her a telephone with a Florida area code to match her cover story.
Interviews with the second victim helped investigators identify a potential third victim who reportedly is 19, Burns wrote.
Rubin said her client got a job four months ago with a roofing company. Jones, the prosecutor, said investigators couldn’t confirm that information.
“We don’t believe he had any other employment than forcing women to have sex” and collecting the proceeds, Jones said.
Based on those arguments, Rodgers ordered Randles held in jail.
“I am constrained to find that there are not conditions I can impose to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court,” he said. “I am granting the government’s motion for detention.”
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