A Baltimore man who city prosecutors said groomed victims as young as 15 on social media and trafficked them into prostitution has been indicted this month.
Donte Alexander Barr, 36, of the 900 block of Lenton Ave. in North Baltimore, is charged with 19 counts, including human trafficking and soliciting minors, the state’s attorney’s office said. Barr faces up to 385 years in prison for the prostitution ring that involved 25 women, most of whom were between 15 and 18 years old, State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said at a news conference Monday.
The majority of the victims “were vulnerable minors, who were coerced, recruited, transported, threatened, sexually abused and/or induced by Mr. Barr to perform unlawful sexual acts for his financial gain,” Mosby said.
“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud and/or coercion to recruit, transport, abduct or deceive vulnerable individuals, including children,” she said.
Mosby called human trafficking “a hidden crime” because victims are often reluctant to come forward because of fear of the traffickers, distrust of law enforcement or intense trauma that causes them not to identify as victims.
A public defender representing Barr could not be reached for comment Monday.
The investigation began almost a year ago after a Department of Juvenile Services agent received a tip from the community.
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Gerald Collins, chief of the major investigations unit in the state’s attorney’s office, said that between March 2017 and January of this year, Barr identified and solicited victims through social media and other internet sources, and through personal contacts.
Collins said Barr arranged for the girls to meet customers, dictating the sexual services provided by them, the fees and how payments would be made.
Collins said Barr paid for clothing, costumes and disguises to change the girls’ appearance. Barr allegedly took pictures of the girls in various poses, in provocative clothing and various stages of undress, which he used in more than 500 advertisements on the website Backpage.com. He used multiple phones and email addresses, as well as aliases and pseudonyms, and advertised sexual encounters that he would arrange, Collins said.
Collins said Barr then helped arrange for the women to meet clients at private homes, hotels, apartments and other locations, and provided transportation for them. He rented several rooms throughout the state, but mostly in the city, and he also allegedly provided illegal drugs and alcohol for the girls, and condoms and other items used by the victims when they performed sexual acts.
Hoping to help Maryland human trafficking survivors clear criminal records, a University of Baltimore law school clinic has joined with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to expand its trafficking prevention program. It is designed to pave the way to employment and end cycles of control and abuse.
To keep them working, Collins said, “he would coerce or threaten the victims,” and he sometimes would have sexual intercourse with the victims, forbid them from leaving or withhold money to keep them working.
Barr was arrested on Jan. 3 after Baltimore police detectives and FBI agents conducted a sting in which they called Barr on his cellphone responding to an ad on Backpage, Collins said. On the phone with the detectives, Barr negotiated a price and a service for sexual activity with an underage minor at a local hotel. Law enforcement responded to the location and arrested him.