BARRE — A Plainfield man will serve seven years in prison for having sex with an underage girl he met online and discussing her working as an escort for other men.
Douglas W. Hersey, 45, was sentenced Wednesday in Washington County criminal court in Barre to 12½ to 25 years, all suspended except for seven years to serve, on felony convictions of human trafficking and sexual assault on a victim under 16 years old. Hersey pleaded no contest to the human trafficking conviction and guilty to the sexual assault conviction in July.
The state dismissed felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and sexual exploitation of a child, per the plea agreement.
Trooper James Vooris, of the Vermont State Police, said in his affidavit a girl interviewed in May 2018 at OUR House in Barre told investigators she had engaged in multiple sexual relationships with men. Vooris said the victim reported meeting a man, later identified as Hersey, on the online marketplace Craigslist.org and they would meet up to have sex when she was 15 years old. She told investigators Hersey knew how old she was.
Vooris said Hersey reported he and the victim would communicate via the messaging service KIK. Vooris said the victim showed investigators that she had sent Hersey nude photos on KIK, photos Hersey had asked for. Vooris found three more explicit photos of the victim on Hersey’s cellphone after Hersey gave investigators consent to search the phone, according to the affidavit. Vooris said Hersey admitted to having sex with the victim on multiple occasions.
Vooris said Hersey told investigators he and the victim also discussed the idea of her becoming an escort. The trooper said while the victim and Hersey were talking on KIK, Hersey admitted to being someone people would call to hire women for sex. Hersey told the victim at one point he had three women he would hire out, according to court records.
When they discussed the victim becoming an escort, Vooris said Hersey told her she needed to tell clients she was 18 years old. He told the victim to send him photos so he could start the process of getting clients lined up. Vooris said investigators also found on Hersey’s phone an email exchange from November 2017 between Hersey and someone on Craiglist looking for sex. Hersey told the person that he “may have a couple girls depending on the ages you are looking for.”
Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault has sought a term of 10 years in prison for Hersey. His attorney, Andrew Schmidt, argued for a lesser sentence.
Thibault sent out a statement Thursday saying Hersey’s case is the first conviction for human trafficking in the county.
“The exploitation of children, especially those who are vulnerable or have already faced great adversity in life, is intolerable. Rather than emphasize the depravity of Mr. Hersey’s actions, the greatest takeaway from this case is the strength and resilience of the victim throughout the process. Deep gratitude is also due for the investigators and advocates who made justice for the victim possible. This sentence should clearly send the message that there are severe consequences for adults who make the choice to exploit or harm a child.”