Friday, March 3, 2017
A Houston man faces up to life in prison if convicted of his alleged role as the head of a brutal prostitution ring in which women were forced into sexual slavery by beatings and threats to their lives.
Anthony “Trouble” Gardner was charged Friday with “continuous trafficking of persons.” This is believed to be the first time that charge has ever been filed by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“Sex trafficking in Houston is an epidemic. Our new Sex Crimes Division is making prosecution of traffickers like Anthony Gardner a priority,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. “Gardner posed a real-time threat to the women he has trafficked and abused, but the tables have turned.”
Gardner, 27, is accused of violently forcing at least eight women, including two minors who were under 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.
He was investigated as part of a targeted approach taken by the Houston Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office’s newly formed Sex Crimes Division.
“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 criminal charge was created by the Texas Legislature in 2011 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. This case is one of first impression in Harris County, and reflects the new administrations focus on organized crime.
This prosecution comes as Houston continues to be a regional hub for trafficking of persons, including those forced to work in the sex industry.
The 17-year-old had Gardner’s street name, “Trouble”, tattooed on her chest, a practice among some pimps to mark women they consider property.
It is alleged that the trafficked women each had to make Gardner at least $1,000 a day, and sometimes more, by performing sex acts. If they did not, they’d be further brutalized and sent back to work to make their daily quota.
At $1,000 per day by eight women, Gardner could have made as much as $2.9 million a year.
As an example of Gardner’s alleged use of violence prosecutors allege Gardner beat one woman severely and then grew angrier as she dripped blood on him as it poured from her battered nose.
The victims, who are named in court papers only by their initials in order to protect their identities, are alleged to have drawn customers along roadways as well as on the Internet, including the site Backpage.com.
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.
Gardner was charged with continuous trafficking of persons, aggravated promotion of prostitution and two counts of compelling prostitution by force.