HOUSTON - A man has been charged for his alleged role as the head of a prostitution ring, the Harris County District Attorney's Office said.
Anthony "Trouble" Gardner, 27, of Houston, was charged Friday with continuous trafficking of persons and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The district attorney's office said this is believed to be the first time the charge has been filed by its office.
"Sex trafficking in Houston is an epidemic," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. "Our new sex crimes division is making prosecution of traffickers like Anthony Gardner a priority. Gardner posed a real-time threat to the women he has trafficked and abused, but the tables have turned."
The district attorney's office said Gardner is accused of forcing at least eight women -- including two minors who were younger than 18 at the time -- to work for him on the streets of Houston as part of an enterprise that operated from at least November 2014 to the time of his arrest.
Gardner was investigated as part of a targeted approach taken by the Houston Police Department's Human Trafficking Unit and the newly formed sex crimes division of the district attorney's office, officials said.
"We are happy Anthony Gardner has been arrested and charged with this crime," said Lt. Jessica Anderson, of the Vice Division's human trafficking unit. "Sex traffickers should take notice that we will not tolerate this crime in our city and will investigate, arrest and work with the district attorney's office to have you prosecuted."
The district attorney's office said the criminal charge was created in 2011 by the Texas Legislature and makes it a crime to traffic a person, and through force, fraud, or coercion, cause that person to engage in sexual conduct on two or more occasions during a period of 30 days or longer. It carries a penalty of 25 years to life.
A 17-year-old had Gardner's street name, "Trouble," tattooed on her chest, which is "a practice among some pimps to mark women they consider property," the district attorney's office said.
It is alleged the trafficked women each had to bring Gardner at least $1,000 a day, and sometimes more, by performing sex acts, the district attorney's office said. If they did not, they would allegedly be further brutalized and sent back to work to make their daily quota.
The district attorney's office said at $1,000 per day by eight women, Gardner could have made as much as $2.9 million a year.
Prosecutors alleged that Gardner beat one woman severely and then grew angrier as she dripped blood on him as it poured from her battered nose, the district attorney's office said.
The victims named in court papers only by their initials in order to protect their identities are alleged to have solicited customers along roadways, as well as on the internet, including the site Backpage.com, the district attorney's office said.
Gardner is accused of taking every dollar his victims made, coaching them how to be prostitutes and on at least two instances impregnating the women, the district attorney's office said.
In addition to the continuous trafficking of persons charge, the district attorney's office said Gardner has been charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution and two counts of compelling prostitution by force.
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