On Friday, February 28, 2020, United States District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sentenced Michael Ross to five and a half years in federal prison with ten years supervised release. While the typical sentence for Ross’ conviction is seven to ten years, he pled guilty to the offense and Judge Surrick accepted the negotiated sentence. The unique part about Ross’ conviction is that he was convicted, not for the trafficking offense of Sex Trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion, but for a violation of the Mann Act.
Congress passed the Mann Act in 1910 to combat sex trafficking of young girls. Originally, the Mann Act was designed to prohibit the transportation of any woman or girl across state lines for “any other immoral purpose.” Consequently, many law enforcement officers began abusing the jurisdiction of the Mann Act by arresting any man who could be doing something as innocent as taking his wife to a concert or a weekend getaway across state lines. Most unfortunately, the Mann Act was used to target men of color who married white women. Today, the law has been amended to further define “any other immoral purpose” as “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” The law also focused on protecting minors from being victims of illegal sexual activity.
Ross was charged with the transportation of a minor for purposes of prostitution. Throughout the sentencing hearing, both Ross and his defense attorney admitted that he did, in fact, transport a minor for the purposes of prostitution. The focus of the defense’s argument was to emphasize Ross’ remorse and to use his surrounding circumstances as either mitigating factors or as prejudicial factors that unfairly contributed to Ross’ sentence.
Another interesting aspect of the sentencing hearing were the witnesses present to speak on either their own behalf or on Ross’ behalf. First, Ross’ mother spoke about the hardships Ross has faced throughout his life and how his struggles negatively impacted his decision to commit this crime. Additionally, she spoke about Ross’ addiction to ecstasy and how that addiction fueled poor and unsafe decisions. Next, Ross’ fiancée spoke about Ross’ role as a kind father and partner in her life. Despite their love for Ross, the most powerful testimony came with the victim of Ross’ crime.
Ross’ victim was seventeen when he abused her. Now, she is nineteen and is no longer addicted to the drugs Ross forced her to take, but his impact on her is clearly an indelible one. She bravely spoke about how she cannot walk down the street without fearing that Ross told one of his friends to kill her. She cannot sit through a therapy session without flashing back to her interactions with Ross and feeling like she is still in that dangerous and traumatic environment. Despite recapping the horrors of her victimization, she remained incredibly strong and confident throughout her testimony. She made clear to the courtroom that this trauma will not define her and that she is fully capable of becoming the person she wants to be in the future.
The CSE Institute proudly supports Assistant United States Attorneys Michelle Morgan and Allison Donohue Kehner, both 1997 graduates of Villanova Law, for their work prosecuting Michael Ross. More importantly, the CSE Institute would like to congratulate the survivor for speaking her truth and telling her side of the story in a world where the victim’s story is often not heard.