AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - Five people pleaded guilty in connection with an Augusta sex trafficking ring, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Georgia.
William Warren Hart, 35, of Hephzibah was the latest defendant to plead guilty in the case. He is facing up to five years in prison for using a facility of interstate commerce to facilitate the carrying of a business involving prostitution.
The other four defendants previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to engage in the sex trafficking of a minor, according to the attorney's office. They are:
- Charles Henry Castillo (also known as Joe King), 32, of Augusta
- Allison Jontil Barnes (also known as Jah and Shantae Davis), 29, of Augusta
- Shelica Daniels (also known as Red), 27, of Augusta
- Heather Leigh Hedrick, 30, of Augusta
Each of these defendants is facing a sentence of life imprisonment. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
According to evidence presented during several guilty plea hearings, Daniels encouraged a 16-year-old girl to leave home in the summer of 2013 and begin working for her as a prostitute. Daniels placed ads on Backpage.com for the victim using a pseudonym, according to the attorney's office.
Soon afterwards, Barnes, who met the victim through Daniels, encouraged the girl to begin working for her in the same way. The two later met up with Castillo, who assumed a leadership role in the operation, according to the attorney's office. Castillo got Hedrick and Barnes to help prepare images and videos of the minor to be used to advertise her availability for prostitution. Hart helped Barnes post some of those advertisements on Backpage.com.
On August 26, 2013, the FBI received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that a juvenile's images were being posted on Backpage.com for prostitution services. Through an undercover operation conducted that same day, agents and officers with the FBI's Computer Crime Child Exploitation (CCCX) Task Force identified and arrested Castillo, Hedrick, and Barnes, and rescued the 16-year-old victim at Castillo's apartment.