Two in Champaign accused of aiding alleged sex-trafficking ring

Two in Champaign accused of aiding alleged sex-trafficking ring

URBANA — Two more people believed to be helpers in an alleged sex-trafficking ring that operated in Champaign County for the last two years have been criminally charged.

Katelyn Curtis and Kamaal Dudley, both 27 and living in Champaign hotels, were arrested in Champaign and appeared Friday in U.S. District Court in Urbana.

Charged with conspiracy and the use of a facility of interstate commerce to aid in racketeering, they are accused of assisting Franshon Stapleton, 45, of Springfield, who was indicted in early June on federal charges of sex trafficking and benefitting from sex trafficking. Stapleton has been in custody since mid-May.

The four-count indictment against Stapleton alleged that he forced three women in that two-year period to engage in sex acts for which men paid and he took the money.

The complaint filed prior to the indictment painted a bleak picture of how the women, who were addicted to drugs, were essentially held hostage by Stapleton in hotel rooms in Champaign. Curtis lived with him.

It said he gave them food, very little cash, and a daily allotment of heroin and crack cocaine. If they needed more than what he gave them, they had to pay for it by servicing additional clients.

They were threatened and sometimes physically abused by Stapleton, the complaint said. One woman told special agents she saw about 50 clients a week for Stapleton.

The primary means of soliciting customers was an online classified-ad service known as Backpage, which has since been shut down by the Department of Justice.

Dudley told agents that he was running the "lines" for Stapleton — making the customer contacts, then relaying that information to Stapleton.

Curtis told agents she ran ads and managed clients for Stapleton but denied that Stapleton required her to sell herself for sex to benefit him. She also admitted to selling drugs, primarily crack cocaine, for Stapleton, but denied that she got heroin from him.

The complaint said on May 17, police watched Curtis leave a north Champaign hotel and get in Stapleton's vehicle, where she injected herself in the arm.

Just last week, Curtis was charged in Champaign County Circuit Court with possession of a controlled substance after she admitted using heroin in the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant on July 11 on North Prospect Avenue in Champaign. She appeared in court July 12 on the felony charge and was released on her own recognizance.

In federal court Friday, Urbana attorney Steve Beckett, appointed to represent Curtis, asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long to continue her hearing. Before Long could even read the charges aloud, Beckett asked the judge for more time because Curtis "was not in good physical or mental condition."

Minutes later, Long read the charges to Dudley, simplifying the allegations for him.

"You were participating in a prostitution ring. The reason it's a federal case is because you used interstate commerce to further it. You placed Backpage ads that came to your phone and you coordinated the unlawful activity — prostitution — and in return for doing that with Mr. Stapleton, you got paid for that," Long said.

Dudley indicated he understood.

His court-appointed attorney, Steve Sarm of Champaign, also asked to continue the hearing so he and Dudley could have more time to review the allegations.

Long agreed to the continuances, setting Dudley's next court appearance for Wednesday and Curtis' for Friday. He ordered both to be held in the custody of federal marshals until their hearings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson said she intends to ask that both remain in jail while their cases are pending.

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