ROME, Ga. - Brian Hernandez Acosta, the lead defendant in a child sex trafficking case, has pleaded guilty to charges of conducting a child exploitation enterprise, conspiring to engage, and engaging, in sex trafficking minors by force, fraud, or coercion, sex trafficking of children under 18 years old, interstate transport of a minor for prostitution, producing child pornography, and distributing cocaine to a person under 21 years old.
“The defendant produced child pornography and pursued a full range of child exploitation methods,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “The scheme in this case is especially egregious because they coerced their child victims into engaging in sexual activity in some instances through the use of alcohol and cocaine. We are hopeful that Hernandez Acosta’s guilty plea will encourage more victims to contact law enforcement.”
“This defendant and his friends preyed upon vulnerable teens, and in a scheme of cruelty and brutality coerced his victims to sell their bodies for his own gratification and profit,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI has zero tolerance for the sex trafficking of children and will continue to work with law enforcement partners to ensure justice is served for the victims.”
“I am very pleased that members of the Dalton Police Department were able to assist with this case. The hard work and efforts by the FBI and the task force members really paid off. Their efforts have helped to dismantle a group that was sexually exploiting minors,” said Dalton Police Chief Cliff Cason.
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Hernandez Acosta conspired to traffic minor girls for commercial sex throughout North Georgia. Beginning in November 2015, and continuing until December 2016, the defendants allegedly caused at least six girls between 16 and 17 years old to engage in prostitution, through the use force, fraud, and coercion.
Hernandez Acosta, after pursuing some of the girls on Facebook and Snapchat, posted provocative photographs of them in the adult entertainment and escort sections of Backpage.com, a classified advertisement website seized by the Department of Justice. Hernandez Acosta used these ads to solicit men to engage in sex with the minors for money. The advertisements used fake names for the minors and falsely listed the girls’ ages as between 19 through 21 years old. For example, Hernandez Acosta forced one 16-year-old girl to engage in sex with men after driving her from Florida to Georgia after falsely offering the girl a place to live. The defendant required the young girls to engage in sex acts with multiple men each night and kept a large portion of the money they earned.
Between July 2016 and December 2016, co-defendants Anthony Joseph Lawhon and Brandi Rice Stumpe allegedly hosted numerous sex parties at their residence in Canton, Georgia, where they engaged in sex acts with minor girls or young women while plying them with alcohol and cocaine. Investigators recovered images of some of this conduct on Hernandez Acosta’s cellphone. Lawhon is alleged to have paid Hernandez Acosta thousands of dollars in exchange for commercial sex and cocaine. Investigators are working to identify other girls and young women allegedly victimized in this child exploitation scheme.
Hernandez Acosta’s guilty plea follows the previous guilty pleas of co-defendants Nilageo Alvarez Acosta and Jaime Adam Riano. The trial of co-defendants Anthony Joseph Lawhon and Brandi Rice Stumpe is currently scheduled for September 16, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr.
Brian Hernandez Acosta, 28, of Dalton, Georgia, pleaded guilty on July 1, 2019, to the offenses of conducting a child exploitation enterprise, sex trafficking minors by force, fraud, or coercion, sex trafficking of children under 18 years old, transporting a minor in interstate commerce for prostitution, producing child pornography, and distributing cocaine to a person under 21 years old.
Nilageo Alvarez Acosta pleaded guilty on April 11, 2019, to conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking, sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, sex trafficking children under 18 years old, and interstate transport of a minor for prostitution.
Jaime Adam Riano pleaded guilty on November 17, 2017, to sex trafficking children under 18 years old.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Dalton Police Department. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the Murray County Sheriff’s Office also provided assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Suzette A. Smikle, Dashene Cooper, and Phyllis Clerk are prosecuting the case.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment concerning co-defendants Anthony Joseph Lawhon and Brandi Rice Stumpe only contains charges. Lawhon and Stumpe are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.