NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee federal jury split its verdict Friday against nine people accused of operating a sex trafficking ring run mostly by Somali refugee gang members, convicting three men and acquitting six.
The defendants are among a total of 30 who were indicted in the case that spans from Minnesota to Ohio and Tennessee. The jury of six men and six women deliberated over five days this week before returning the verdict.
After the verdict was read, Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent said outside the federal courthouse in Nashville said the verdict shows that the jury found that sex trafficking did occur and the government won't cease prosecuting these cases.
"It's very important for victims to understand that you can come forward, people will listen and that people can believe what you have to say about the crime," Vincent said.
A Somali witness identified only as Jane Doe No. 2 testified that she was used as a prostitute by gang members starting at the age of 12. She cried in court as she described being taken to several apartments in around suburban Minneapolis to have sex with other Somali men for money, sometimes as little as $40.
Idris Ibrahim Fahra, Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf were found guilty of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion. The three men were also charged with child sex trafficking and attempted child sex trafficking, but only Fahra was convicted on one additional count of child sex trafficking.
Fahra faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the child sex trafficking conviction up to life in prison, and Kayachitch and Yusuf face a possible maximum sentence of up to life in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
According to the prosecutors, Idris Fahra, who went by the nickname "Chi Town," had an apartment in St. Paul in 2006 that was used for the sex trafficking of Jane Doe (hash)2, who was in the 7th grade at the time, and he would also get to have sex with her for free because he was a member of the gang.
Jane Doe (hash)2 also described being taken to Nashville in April 2009 for the purpose of sexual trafficking. Andrew Kayachitch, who went by the nickname "AK," and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf, who went by the nickname "Junior," were detained in Nashville by police along with Jane Doe (hash)2.
Attorney David Komisar, attorney for Yusuf, said his client was disappointed by the verdict and he plans to ask for an acquittal.
"He maintains his innocence and we don't think that there was proof that Jane Doe (hash)2 was underage in April of 2009," he said following the verdict.
Six of the nine defendants are of Somali descent. Two others were natives of Ethiopia. Kayachith was born in the U.S. and is of Laotian descent.
Defense attorneys contended the witness willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face. They also repeatedly questioned whether Jane Doe (hash)2 was a juvenile at the time the sex acts occurred because prosecutors revealed on the eve of trial that her birth certificate was falsified.
Vincent said the convictions prove that the jury found she was under the age of 18.
Jennifer Thompson, defense attorney for defendant Fahra, said in closing statements last week that Jane Doe No. 2 was a runaway who manipulated people around her and was fed information from a St. Paul, Minn., police investigator. Thompson also said Jane Doe No. 2 was an adult who was the same age or older than the men she was having sex with.
Thompson did not immediately return a call seeking comment about her client.
Another witness, who was identified in court as Jane Doe No. 5, testified that she saw young women and girls being used as prostitutes in a Nashville apartment. She testified that she was being used to have sex with men in Minnesota when she was around 15 or 16 years old.
Luke Evans, an attorney for the acquitted defendant Fadumo Mohamed Farah, said Jane Doe No. 5 was mentally ill and not taking her medication when she testified. He argued that she suffers from paranoid delusions and can't tell fiction from fact.
The original indictment that was unsealed in 2010 claims the ring involved three Minneapolis-based gangs — the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws — and that all three gangs are connected. The men and women charged were either gang members or associates of the gangs that operated in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville.
The other defendants were severed from the trial and could face trial at a later date.
The other men acquitted Friday are Ahmad Abnulnasir Ahmad, Musse Ahmed Ali, Fatah Haji Hashi, Dahir Nor Ibrahim and Mohamed Ahmed Amalle.