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February 26, 2013

Authorities arrest two human trafficking suspects in Southfield

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

A man and woman from Memphis, Tenn., have been arrested and accused of human trafficking in metro Detroit.

Vinson Alexander, 30, allegedly assaulted an 18-year-old woman at a Southfield hotel last week, and an investigation led authorities to discover that he was also suspected of forcing her to work as a stripper in southeast Michigan since December. Taryn Johnson, 27, also faces a human trafficking charge and has been identified as his accomplice, according to police.

“The arrest was made last Thursday at a hotel in the 28000 block of Northwestern Highway,” explained Lt. Nick Loussia of the Southfield Police Department. “We were dispatched there referencing a report of assault and battery in one of the rooms.”

Upon arrival at the Extended Stay Hotel, authorities found the two suspects and the victim in the room. The victim needed to be taken to the hospital for injuries, Loussia added.

“She had dried blood around her ear, her cheekbone was swollen and she was complaining of stomach pain in her rib area,” he said. “We determined that she had been assaulted by the male and further investigation revealed that the female tried hiding the assault by turning up the volume of the TV in the room to cover up the noise of the assault.”
Two Southfield detectives work part time with the Southeast Michigan Crimes Against Children Task Force, which assisted in the investigation, Loussia noted.

In a press release, Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Feb. 25 that his Human Trafficking Unit had filed criminal charges against Alexander and Johnson.

"Our Constitution's 13th Amendment bans slavery in all its forms, but human traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to exploit victims right here in Michigan," said Schuette in the release. "It’s time to stop the horrifying reality that our own citizens are bound in the chains of modern day slavery. Our daughters, friends and neighbors are forced into prostitution, domestic servitude and other forced labor by criminals who take advantage of them.”

Charges were brought against the two suspects Feb. 25 in 46th District Court during an arraignment by Magistrate Donna Posey.

Alexander was charged with one count of human trafficking – forced labor for a commercial sex act, a 20-year felony; one count of human trafficking – forced labor causing serious physical harm, a 20-year felony; one count of human trafficking – financially benefitting from a human trafficking venture, a 10-year felony; one count of criminal enterprises – acquire/maintain (racketeering), a 20-year felony; and one count of torture, a felony punishable by life in prison, according to the press release.

Johnson allegedly recruited the 18 year-old victim from Breckenridge, Texas, a small town approximately 130 miles west of Dallas, luring her with promises of a good salary, according to police. Johnson was charged with one count of human trafficking – recruiting for forced labor, a 10-year felony. 

Alexander reportedly collected all of the woman’s earnings from the Detroit-area strip club she worked at and used threats and violence to control the victim when she resisted, the press release said. Loussia added that they believe the two suspects brought the woman up from Texas in the operation.

A $1 million bond was set for Alexander, and a $750,000 bond was set for Johnson. Loussia said Feb. 25 that both were in custody and are due for a pre-exam conference March 1 and a preliminary exam March 8. Attorneys for Johnson and Alexander could not be reached by press time.

According to the press release issued by Schuette’s office, human trafficking is modern day slavery and it is the second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world — after drug trafficking.

“I’d like to thank the Southfield Police Department for their assistance in this important arrest,” Schuette said. “Human trafficking is a very difficult crime to identify and detect, and we appreciate the diligence of the investigators handling this case.”

Victims of human trafficking are in bondage through force, fraud or coercion, solely for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation. Children are especially vulnerable, according to the release. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,515 incidents of human trafficking were recorded nationwide between January 2008 and June 2010. Of those incidents, 1,016 involved the sexual exploitation of a child, 1,218 involved the sexual exploitation of adults, and 350 involved labor trafficking.

The Michigan law banning human trafficking went into effect in August of 2006. The law was strengthened in 2010, with those changes taking effect in April of 2011. Updates to the law included adding human trafficking to the list of predicate offenses that fall under the state racketeering law, authorizing additional court-ordered restitution for trafficking victims and stronger penalties for those convicted in human trafficking-related offenses.

Since its launch in 2011, Schuette's Human Trafficking Unit has secured five human trafficking convictions, according to the press release.

Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins issued a statement after the arrest, noting Southfield’s role in the investigation.
“The Southfield Police Department is committed to working with our federal and local law enforcement partners to eliminate any and all forms of human trafficking in Southeast Michigan,” he said.

For more information on how to identify and report human trafficking, visit the Attorney General’s website at www.michigan.gov/humantrafficking.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.