Fort Lauderdale child sex-trafficking trial under way
A Fort Lauderdale father methodically recruited runaway girls, one just 12 years old, to work as prostitutes for him, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Van Lawson Williams, 49, would take troubled children into his home, offering them a place to stay in exchange for them selling their bodies, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Steinberg as Williams' federal sex-trafficking trial got under way.
The girls got word of Williams and his house in the 2000 block of Northwest 30th Avenue through other youths at group homes and treatment centers, according to federal authorities. Steinberg said Williams clearly knew the runaways he was taking in were underage, plying them with money, marijuana and crack cocaine.
"They look like kids. They talk like kids. They act like kids," said Steinberg of the six girls lined up to testify against Williams. The girls ranged in age from 12 to 16 when they met Williams, who is the father of a young girl.
Williams is charged with four counts of sex trafficking of minors and two counts of attempted sex trafficking of minors. If he is convicted of any of the charges, he could face up to life in prison.
Williams' attorney, Howard Greitzer, urged the jury to carefully evaluate the girls' testimony to see how much it has changed since they first talked to law enforcement. He said that one of the girls initially told law enforcement that she never prostituted herself, but babysat Williams' 7-year-old daughter.
He argued that the case rests on the girls' testimony with federal authorities lacking physical evidence to support their case.
"Use your common sense," Greitzer said.
Steinberg said Williams found girls who were "lost" and "damaged" and gave them what they craved most — attention. He let them live with him, fed them and offered to buy them clothes and pay to get their hair and nails done, she said.
"In order to stay there [at the house] you had to sleep with the men he provided," Steinberg said.
Williams set the prices to have sex with the girls, oftentimes providing clients with condoms, Steinberg said. Federal authorities allege that sometimes Williams would split the money with the girls and sometimes he would pocket all of it.
Federal authorities have alleged in court records that if the girls refused to do what Williams said, he would physically abuse them.
In addition to the girls' testimony, federal prosecutors have indicated they intend to play audio recordings to the jury of Williams talking to two underage girls. The FBI had the girls place the phone calls, with Williams telling one of the youths, "If you come to me you mine," according to court records.
Prosecutors also have indicated they have text messages sent by Williams about prostitution activity.
The girls are scheduled to start testifying Tuesday in the case before U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley.