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DOJ: Federal judge sentences fourth man in Battle Creek sex-trafficking operation

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —  A federal judge in Grand Rapids has sentenced a 28-year-old Battle Creek man to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking a minor. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says James Smith is the fourth defendant sentenced in the case.

Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge says in a news release that two 14-year-old girls were sex trafficked in Battle Creek in June 2016.

William Edwards recruited the first 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 they gave her cocaine, telling her it would help her stay up longer to make more money, according to prosecutors.

Birge says Edwards took the girl to the home of Dakota Walters, and created an online advertisement for sex with the minor. They told her to act like she was 18. Edwards took half of all the money she made and when one client didn’t pay her, Edwards grabbed the girl’s neck and threw her against a wall. She eventually fled, so Edwards turned to another 14-year-old runaway, who he handed off to Smith.

All this according to Birge, who says Smith forced the second girl to engage in commercial sex for about a week, provided her with cocaine and recruited Michael Noble – who drove her to meet johns.

Prosecutors say Smith carried a gun, forced the girl to have sex with him and took away her phone so she could not contact her family. This, while she was trapped in a Battle Creek motel for a week with Smith and Noble. The news release says the minor finally escaped when she found her phone while the others slept, texted her aunt and ran.

HSI Detroit special agent-in-charge Steve Francis says the sentencing “effectively ends a heinous sex-trafficking scheme that exploited two underage girls.”

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.

Homeland Security Investigations and the Battle Creek Police Department handled the investigation.

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