One of the challenges we face in the fight against human trafficking is the ability to prosecute effectively at the state level. Tennessee has been working for several years now to establish laws that will aid police and prosecutors in trying cases and putting traffickers away for a significant time. Up until now the sentences have been ridiculously low and do nothing to deter traffickers from exploiting vulnerable women and children.
Memphis, Tennessee made a serious step towards rectifying this with the recent prosecution of Juan Mendez, who received a 50-year sentence. The Memphis campaign started by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Unit has become the model nationally for its initiative to maximize prison stings for sex traffickers. Here are a few recent cases and a link to the article in The Commercial Appeal.
Juan Mendez (33-years-old): Recruited girls as young as 12-years-old from poor Mexican villages, promising them legitimate jobs in the United States so they could send money back home. Instead he raped, beat and forced them into prostitution in brothels in Memphis and Nashville. Sentence: 50 years and if still living will be deported to Mexico once released.
Mitchell Lamont Chest: Encouraged an Illinois teenager to runaway with him, then forced her into prostitution in Chicago and later in Memphis. Sentence: 15 years in federal prison.
Leonard Augusta Fox (43-years-old): Recruited Memphis girls ages 13-17 and forced them into prostitution at apartment complexes and gaming hotels. Sentence: serving 25 years in federal prison.
Terrence Arnett Yarbrough: Prosecutors say he reigned over a dozen teeens and women with intimidationand extreme violence. Sentence: awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. If convicted, would face 15 years to life in prison.
Charles Kizer (55-years-old): Accused of kidnapping a Knoxville girl and bringing her to Memphis where he forced her into prostitution. Sentence: awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. If convicted, would face 15 years to life in prison.