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United States v. Almonte

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MARIA SOLY ALMONTE, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. KIMBA M. WOOD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Maria Soly Almonte (the "defendant") moves pursuant to Rules 29 and 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for a judgment of acquittal with respect to Counts One and Two and for a new trial. Dkt. No. 165 ("Def. Mem.") Defendant went to trial, testified and was convicted by a jury on all five Counts in the Indictment. She claims that the evidence admitted at trial was insufficient to support a guilty verdict on any of the five counts. Def. Mem. At 6-10, and that a new trial is warranted "because the cumulative weight of the evidence does not support a judgment of guilty." Def. Mem at 11. The evidence admitted at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, was more than sufficient for the jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to all counts. Accordingly, the Court denies defendant's motions.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Indictment

         Defendant was charged in three sex trafficking counts, including (1) conspiring with others to engage in sex trafficking of minors, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1594(c), (2) sex trafficking of a minor under fourteen, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a), (b)(1), and (3) sex trafficking of a minor under eighteen in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1591(a), (b)(2) and 2. Defendant was also charged in two counts relating to the use of phones and the Internet in furtherance of a prostitution business, including (4) violating the Travel Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3) and 2, and (5) conspiracy to violate the Travel Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. All of these charges stemmed from the defendant's management of a prostitution business in the Bronx and Manhattan from in or about 2014 until 2016, which business sold sex with minors.

         II. The Trial

         Trial began on November 20, 2017 before this Court. At trial, the Government presented testimony from two New York City Police Department (NYDP") detectives, three agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), two cooperating witnesses who had worked with the defendant at her prostitution business, an employee of the Administration for Children's Services, the mother of one of the defendant's minor victims, and a physician's assistant who treated another of the minor victims in this case. The Government introduced dozens of exhibits, including Facebook messages, text and audio messages the defendant exchanged with one of her minor sisters, and advertisements for prostitution the defendant posted to the website Backpage.com. The defendant testified in her own defense and introduce several Facebook exhibits. On December 1, 2017, after several hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts.

         III. Summary of Proof at Trial

         The proof presented at trial established beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant's guilt as to each element of the five charged offenses.

         The defendant ran a prostitution business that used minor girls and adult women as prostitutes. The prostitution business began operating in at least 2014 and continued until 2016. The business advertised for customers using the website Backpage.com, where the defendant and? as time went on, others, would post advertisement for prostitution services, using a combination of stock photographs and photographs of the girls and women working in defendant's prostitution business. Law enforcement officers collected approximately 1, 000 advertisements for prostitution connected to the defendant's prostitution business. After seeing an advertisement, customers would call one of the defendant's phones, which were used to run the business, and would be directed to defendant's location. Upon arrival, the client would choose from the women and girls available. A standard price was $60 for half an hour of sex. Of that $60, the woman or minor girl who serviced the client would keep $40, and would pay $20 to the defendant.

         At least six minor girls worked for defendant as prostitutes; three of the girls - - Maribel, Gladys (who went by "Bibi") and I.F. - - are the defendant's younger sisters. During the summer of 2015, at the height of defendant's prostitution business, these three girls were seventeen, sixteen, and fourteen years old respectively. A fourth minor victim, Ariana Roman, was a runaway who was seventeen years old (see GX 533 (Birth Certificate)); defendant told Ariana that she could stay at the apartment if she worked for the defendant as a prostitute. A fifth minor J.G., was fifteen years old when she worked for the defendant, (see GX 535 (Birth Certificate)), and a sixth minor, J.F., was thirteen years old when she worked for the defendant (see GX 534 (Birth Certificate)). During the time period at issue, defendant advertised her prostitution business on the website Backpage.com. Her advertisements frequently used email addresses that the defendant admitted belonged to her, as well as phone numbers registered to the defendant's alias "Soly Montana," and which she provided to others as her phone numbers on Facebook. Some of the advertisements posted by defendant contained photographs of herself, some contained photographs of women who worked for her, some contained stock photographs from the internet, and some contained photographs of the defendant's minor victims. The Backpage advertisements for sex included photos of the defendant's sisters, I.F., Maribel, and Arianna, when they were fourteen, sixteen and seventeen years old, respectively.

         The defendant arranged a trip to Pennsylvania in approximately June 2015 for herself and several of her workers, including Gabriely Jose, Arianna, and another minor girl known as Nikki. While there, the defendant posted advertisements to Backpage for Jose, Arianna and Nikki. Jose, Arianna, and Nikki each had sex with men for money there, and provided a portion of the earnings to the defendant. The defendant wrote a message to her sister about the trip, explaining "am out to pa with my girls got 2 new ones ... am definitely popn pussy." See GX 721.

         In the summer of 2015, defendant coordinated with Gabriely Jose, who had helped the defendant run the prostitution business and later became a cooperating witness at trial, to recruit a thirteen year old girl to work for the defendant as a prostitute. Jose testified that she told the defendant about a girl named J.F. who was interested in working; the defendant instructed Jose to bring J.F. to the brothel's current location. Jose agreed and brought J.F. to the brothel location, where "Sole told J.F. how the business worked, as in getting a pop ...." see Trial Tr. at 187-188. Jose testified that the defendant explained to J.F. that when "she got a pop, she would have to give Soly a part and take the rest, and J.F. said okay." Id. at 188. After this exchange, the defendant had J.F. and Arianna participate in a "two-girl special" with the landlord of the building out of which the defendant was operating. After the landlord paid for sex with J.F. and Arianna - both minors at the time - each gave the defendant a portion of their earnings.

         IV. The Defendant's ...


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