Springfield man charged with sex trafficking in Champaign County

Springfield man charged with sex trafficking in Champaign County

URBANA — A Springfield man has been charged by federal authorities with sex trafficking in Champaign County last fall.

Franshon Stapleton, 45, made an initial court appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long, who ordered that Stapleton be held by the U.S. Marshal's Service until he is tried.

He was arrested by Urbana police Thursday and is in the Macon County jail in Decatur.

Simplifying the federal charge for Stapleton, Long said: "You had females perform sex acts; they got paid; you coordinated and took a cut. That's a violation of the commercial sex trafficking act."

Long explained to Stapleton that if he's convicted, he faces 15 years to life in prison.

The charge alleges that Stapleton arranged for prostitutes to have sex, for which he collected the money, between September and December 2017.

Arguing for his detention, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson told Long that Stapleton was arrested in November 2017 by Urbana police, who had received a Crime Stoppers tip a month earlier that Stapleton was transporting prostitutes to and from hotels in Champaign and Urbana in a certain SUV.

According to Peirson and an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Urbana police spotted that SUV Nov. 11 in the 1800 block of North Cunningham Avenue and stopped it.

Inside, they found about 5 grams of cocaine, $4,912 cash, drug paraphernalia, several hundred condoms and four cellphones in his vehicle.

On Stapleton's phone were scores of text messages suggesting that he was recruiting people to buy sex and selling drugs.

With information from the phone, Urbana detectives matched 15 phone numbers involved in text messages to several prostitution ads on a classified ad website known for selling sex, the affidavit said.

That website, BackPage.com, was shut down by the Department of Justice in early April.

Police investigators also located a woman in the Champaign County Jail, referred to in the complaint as Jane Doe, who said she began working for Stapleton to make money to support her heroin habit.

The woman told police that he gave her heroin for free, paid for her to stay in a hotel room, then had sex with her and told her that other men would be around to do the same.

She told police Stapleton would collect any money the men left, calling it payment for the room and the drugs he was providing her.

"If she refused, he hit, berated, strangled and fed her narcotics to keep her under his control," Peirson said.

That woman identified two others who were drug addicts similarly indebted to Stapleton, who would "service as many as 10 to 15 clients per night," while she took care of three per night.

The sex took place at various hotels around the Champaign area, the affidavit said.

Urbana police did surveillance last week on a West Anthony Drive motel where Stapleton was staying with a woman. They saw what they believed to be hand-to-hand drug buys between the woman staying in Stapleton's room with other people.

Police also obtained recordings that a woman who had allegedly worked for Stapleton made to him from the county jail. In one of the calls he yelled at her for following a potential customer to an ATM then hung up on her.

They also made contact Tuesday with another male associate of Stapleton who admitted working for him posting advertisements for sex with women to websites. That man handled phone calls and worked out the details of the acts with Stapleton in return for cash.

While the Backpage site was active, the man said he handled 12 to 15 clients per day for Stapleton but when it was shut down, the business slowed to four to five clients daily.

That man said he never saw Stapleton hit the women but saw him yell at them.

Stapleton was arrested Thursday at the Champaign hotel where he was living. Peirson said police found "30 to 50 heroin needles" in the room.

Assistant U.S. Public Defender Peter Henderson objected to Stapleton's detention. He said the government did not have sufficient proof that Stapleton was using force and coercion to get the women to have sex. He also argued that Stapleton should be allowed to return home to live with his mother in Springfield and that he could be monitored electronically.

Peirson said he had prior convictions for manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance and driving under revovation.

"If he's out, he will intimidate and manipulate the material witnesses in this case," she argued.

Stapleton has pending state charges of possession of a controlled substance in Champaign County for his arrest by Urbana police last November.

Long agreed with Peirson that the probable cause to proceed with prosecution is "stronger than what's required."

No new court date was set, pending action by a federal grand jury.

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