A Houston man was sentenced Monday to 40 years in federal prison for forcing two minors into sex trafficking, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Texas.
Romello Lee, 25, also was ordered by U.S. District Judge David Hittner to pay restitution to the victims and serve the rest of his life on supervised release following his prison term. During his release, he must comply with requirements that restrict his access to children and the Internet. He must also register as a sex offender.
“Too many of our children are falling victims to sex trafficking and predators like Romello Lee,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner in a statement. “We hope today’s sentence sends a strong message to those who continue to exploit our youth, but we also hope it sheds promise to sex trafficking victims waiting to be rescued.”
In March, a federal jury found Lee guilty of one count of trafficking a minor for commercial sex and one count of trafficking a minor by force for commercial sex. During the trial, prosecutors said Lee used Backpage.com, a defunct solicitation website, to advertise the sexual services of two women, ages 14 and 16.
He harbored, advertised and profited from the sex acts of the 16-year-old from from July 2017 to March 2018. He required her to earn up to $500 a night and “would threaten and beat her if she disobeyed him,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The second victim was held against her will. Lee coerced her into the sexual encounters by threatening violence, the attorney’s office said.
The second victim and another adult victim that Lee managed testified at the trial about the consequences if they were to escape. They said they expected to be branded with a tattoo of his name or rap label.
During the trial, prosecutors pointed to numerous Backpage ads that Lee posted, as well as Instagram posts and text messages between him and one of the minor victims, detailing his control of her dates, her nightly quota and her beatings.
He was arrested in a sting operation at a northwest Houston hotel, where he was found with one of the victims.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, Houston Police Department and FBI conducted the investigation as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA).